PROVO — One week after squandering a 16-point first-half lead in a loss at Pepperdine, BYU made sure there would be no such second-half letdown against Saint Mary’s Thursday night at the Marriott Center.
The Cougars led by as many as 19 a few times in the first half against the Gaels before Saint Mary’s whittled the deficit to 12 at halftime.
But BYU seized the momentum again early in the second half by starting off on a 12-1 run and ended up cruising to an 82-60 victory.
“We all kind of looked around at each other at halftime, before the coaches came in, and we know this is our trend,” said guard Chase Fischer. “We get a lead, then we kind of relax. We know we have a lot to prove. We’re a really hungry group right now. We knew we were going to come out and keep playing hard, regardless if shots were falling. We were going to grab the 50-50 balls, rebound, and play really good defense. Collectively, we came together well at the half.”
After the game, the night got even better for BYU with the news that Pepperdine had fallen at Portland, 69-52. That means the Cougars are in sole possession of third place in the West Coast Conference standings.
In a game that saw BYU lead the entire way, it may have been its best performance, and best win, of the season.
“It’s one of the best, for sure, one of the best we’ve played collectively,” Fischer said. “We really put it all together well. We’re in a nice groove right now. … It’s a huge win against a really good team.”
The difference this week, in front of a crowd of 14,317, was the Cougars’ defense and rebounding. BYU (19-8, 9-5) held Saint Mary’s (18-6, 10-3) to 41 percent shooting from the field, forced 15 turnovers and outrebounded the Gaels, 37-26.
“It was a great effort from our guys. We were really dialed in with what we needed to do to be successful,” said coach Dave Rose. “Rebounding is such a huge key to us. We gave them 17 offensive rebounds at their place and tonight they got nine. That’s a big number for us, as far as being able to hold a team to single digits. We outrebounded that and that momentum led to quite a few transition baskets.”
“We talked a lot about rebounding,” said Josh Sharp, who scored a season-high eight points, had six rebounds and a career-high five assists in his second straight start. “We got outrebounded by 10-15 last time. We outrebounded them by 10 or 11 tonight.”
“Tonight was a combination of a lot of guys wanting to finish a game that maybe we didn’t finish a couple of weeks ago (at Saint Mary’s),” Rose said.
With Anson Winder sidelined due to a groin injury, Skyler Halford and Kyle Collinsworth each scored 17 points while Tyler Haws added 15.
To open the game, BYU grabbed a 33-14 lead with six minutes remaining in the first half — despite the fact Haws picked up two quick fouls early in the game and played just six minutes in the first half.
The Cougars led by 19 again, 40-21, before Saint Mary’s outscored BYU 9-2 over the final three minutes to slice the deficit to 42-30 at halftime.
“It’s always a positive sign when your leading scorer goes out in the first half and we still make shots,” Fischer said. “It really started with defense and rebounding. We got out and made a lot of shots. When Ty got back in the second half, it was the same thing and he got going. It’s good when you can extend the lead when your leading scorer is out.”
BYU started the second half with a put-back dunk by Sharp, which sparked a 12-1 run. Suddenly, the Cougars had their largest lead, 54-31. BYU led by 31 with 8:43 left in the contest.
In the locker room at halftime, the coaches didn’t remind the players about the second-half collapse at Pepperdine.
“We talked about the last 3-4 minutes of the first half (against Saint Mary's). The first 15 or 16 minutes were really good. It might be the best 15-16 minutes of a half that we’ve played,” Rose said. “Then we got a little bit complacent. … (His players) really responded in the second half."
The Cougars limited Saint Mary’s star Brad Waldow to 17 points and five rebounds, both below his season average of 20 and 9.5.
“We came in with a plan,” Sharp said. “Waldow’s one of the best players in our league. He’s good at finding other players and getting their whole team involved. Our focus was not letting anyone else go off. We did a good job of that.”
Corbin Kaufusi recorded four blocked shots.
“Defensively we were really good,” Rose said. “Corbin gave us some really good minutes protecting the rim.”
BYU hosts Pacific Saturday (7 p.m. MST, ESPN2).
TIP-INS: Having scored 15 points, Haws now needs 55 points to surpass Jimmer Fredette to become BYU’s all-time leading scorer. … Kaufusi’s four blocks were a career-high and he has 23 blocks on the season. Kaufusi is tied with Fred Roberts for seventh most by a freshman. … Frank Bartley IV scored a season-high nine points, grabbed three rebounds and had three assists.