BYU fights back, fall to No. 16 Saint Mary's in UCU WCC Semifinal
LAS VEGAS – BYU men’s basketball cut a 26-point second-half deficit to just four with a minute to go Monday evening, but the rally ultimately came up short in a 76-69 loss to No. 16 Saint Mary’s. The result eliminates the Cougars from the 2023 University Credit Union West Coast Conference tournament.
“We wish we had performed better, but we gave ourselves a chance. We weren’t quite ready to start this game. It took us a long time to find our emotional fight,” said BYU head coach Mark Pope. “This team has been brilliant in their effort. Their ability to get off the mat and complete is pretty special.”
Spencer Johnson had 13 points for BYU with Richie Saunders scoring 11 and Rudi Williams adding 10. The Cougars shot 49.0 percent from the field in the game including 18-for-28 and 64.3 percent in the second half. The Gaels had a 51.1 percent shooting rate and made 21 free throws.
A slow 2-for-11 shooting start by BYU allowed the Gaels to start the game with a 19-8 lead. The Gaels were much hotter from the field, making 8-of-15 from the field in the first nine minutes. Their strong shooting continued throughout the first, with a pair of threes putting SMC ahead 30-20 with four minutes to go before the break.
Saint Mary’s closed the half on a 10-0 run, with another cold shooting stretch seeing the Cougars fail to score in the final five minutes. A 3-pointer that was made while an off-the-ball foul was called allowed the Gaels to add two free throws in the final seconds and lead 37-20 at halftime.
BYU’s shooting improved to 30.4 percent overall in the half but still trailed SMC’s 50.0 percent. The Cougars were also outrebounded 20-13, with the Gaels registering eight offensive boards.
Saint Mary’s would go up by 26 just five minutes into the second half. But back-to-back threes from Richie Saunders and Dallin Hall would cut the lead to 56-36 at the 13:29 mark before Hall threw an alley-oop to Atiki Ally Atiki to cap off a 10-0 BYU run.
BYU would continue to climb back into the game, getting to within 13 with 8:23 to play. Consistent full-court pressure unsettled the Saint Mary’s offense, with the Gaels going scoreless for nearly three minutes. A driving layup and three made free throws from Gideon George then saw BYU only down eight, 64-56.
George would continue to make big plays, with a block and transition layup putting the Saint Mary’s lead at 67-60 with three-and-a-half minutes remaining. A Hall 3-pointer then put BYU down four, 71-67, with 52 seconds to go.
Four points down would be as close as BYU would get. The Gaels held the Cougars to only two points after Hall’s bucket while converting three free throws and a press-breaking layup in the final minute to escape with the 76-69 win.
BYU men’s basketball head coach Mark Pope announced Friday that Michael Davie has been named the men’s basketball…