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BYU finally beats Saint Mary’s, advances to WCC tournament final

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They shared the ball, they played tough, they played together and we executed well and made good shots. – BYU coach Dave Rose

LAS VEGAS — BYU couldn’t have picked a better time to snap its five-game losing streak and avenge a 31-point loss to nemesis Saint Mary’s.

And the Cougars accomplished the feat by beating the Gaels at their own game Monday night at Orleans Arena.

With crisp ball movement and stellar shooting, No. 3 seed BYU knocked off No. 2 Saint Mary’s 85-72 in the West Coast Conference tournament semifinals.

Forward Yoeli Childs poured in a career-high 33 points (including 3 of 3 from 3-point range and 13 of 18 overall), Elijah Bryant scored 25, TJ Haws added 11 and Dalton Nixon contributed 10 for the Cougars.

“The fact that we won the game is what makes it so sweet," said Cougar coach Dave Rose. "We played them well at our place (in December). The object of this thing isn’t to be ahead in the middle but to be ahead at the end. Our guys … were on it. They shared the ball, they played tough, they played together and we executed well and made good shots. It’s a pretty good formula.”

With the victory, BYU seemed to erase the memory of, and avenge, so many heart-wrenching losses to the Gaels (28-5) over the years, including a humiliating 81-50 loss a year ago in this game.

BYU (24-9) advanced to the WCC tournament championship game Tuesday (7 p.m. MST, ESPN) to face top-seed Gonzaga.

“It’s a really big win for us, our team and our players," Rose said. "As a reward, we get to play Gonzaga. We’re looking forward to it.”

The Cougars took control of the game late in the first half and never let go.

On the night, BYU shot 61 percent from the field (33 of 54) compared to 52 percent for Saint Mary's, which is ranked No. 20 in the nation.

"We needed guys to step up and hit shots," said Gaels coach Randy Bennett. "But the biggest problem was on the defensive end. We've been holding teams to 41 percent shooting and we gave up 60 percent tonight. We gave up (18) points in transition. That's a lot to overcome. We gave them a lot of easy baskets tonight. We didn't come close to being at the top of our game defensively."

Saint Mary’s center Jock Landale played most of the game in foul trouble before fouling out with 21.4 seconds remaining after scoring 23 points. Jordan Ford led the Gaels with 27 points.

"Jock in foul trouble definitely hurt us," Bennett said.

"Every loss we've had I've been in foul trouble," Landale said. "I made some silly plays and there were a couple that didn't go my way tonight."

Said Rose: "We did enough cause (Landale) issues where he didn't get the shots that he has had before against us."

BYU led by four points at halftime, and it maintained the momentum in the second half. Midway through the half, the Cougars went on a 12-0 run to take a 67-54 lead.

Landale, who averaged 31 points per game against BYU in the regular season, was saddled with his fourth foul during that time but stayed in the game. The Cougars attacked the WCC player of the year inside again and again with success.

Childs buried a jumper with 1:10 remaining just as the shot clock buzzer sounded to put BYU ahead 77-68 to all but seal the win.

"We've got to play a lot tougher than we did tonight," Ford said.

“We felt we had them at our place and they got us at their place," Nixon said. "We’ve been waiting for this opportunity to play these guys.”

BYU opened with an 11-4 lead on Saint Mary’s in the game’s opening minutes, but the Gaels went on a 9-2 run to take a 15-13 lead at the 11:33 mark.

The two teams traded baskets over the next eight-minute stretch.

While the Cougars were able to neutralize Landale inside with a double team, Saint Mary’s was able to find an open man — usually Calvin Hermanson or Jordan Ford.

Landale ended the first half with three personal fouls and six points in just 14 minutes. Hermanson also missed time due to foul trouble, picking up two in the first half, though he had 10 points, including three 3-pointers, at intermission. Ford victimized BYU with 15 points and five rebounds over the opening 20 minutes of the game.

Meanwhile, Childs enjoyed an impressive first half, scoring 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting, including a pair of 3-pointers. He second 3-pointer came with three seconds before the halftime buzzer to lift the Cougars to a 41-37 advantage.

BYU shot 61 percent in the first half (17 of 28) compared to 52 percent for Saint Mary’s (14 of 27). The Cougars outscored the Gaels 22-12 in the paint in the first half.

Rose has never lost six consecutive games to a single opponent. And Monday's performance was complete contrast to what happened a year ago.

“The guys know that we’re capable of being anybody,” Rose said. “The bottom line is, we feel like we’re built to win this tournament. We feel like we’re built to play three games in four days and being able to win them all ... We have a tough challenge challenge (Tuesday). This is a really satisfying win, especially for the guys who returned last year because last year was kind of tough in here."