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Next up for struggling BYU — West Coast Conference leader Saint Mary’s

The Gaels are the only unbeaten team remaining in WCC play and they’ve won nine straight games

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BYU head coach Mark Pope yells out instructions as BYU and Utah play at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022.

BYU head coach Mark Pope yells out instructions as BYU and Utah play at the Marriott Center in Provo on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022. The Cougars have lost two straight heading into a matchup with West Coast Conference leader Saint Mary’s.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SAN FRANCISCO — No, the Bay Area wasn’t kind to BYU over the weekend.

The Cougars were swept — a 83-76 loss at Santa Clara Thursday, then an 82-74 setback at San Francisco Saturday.

In some ways, those two setbacks were remarkably similar — even down to the final scores.

In both games combined, BYU had 34 turnovers. And the Cougars struggled on the defensive end. Santa Clara’s Keshawn Justice (23), Carlos Stewart (21) and Brandin Podziemski (17) scored a combined 61 points while USF’s Tyrell Roberts (30), Khalil Shabazz (21) and Zane Meeks (13) combined for 64 points. 

In both games, the Cougars got off to bad starts, thanks to sloppy play and turnovers. BYU trailed 12-2, then 21-8, in the first half against the Broncos. The Cougars dug a 16-5 hole early on against the Dons. 

BYU was 9 of 25 from 3-point range Thursday; 5 of 17 from 3 Saturday. 

“We’ve got to get a lot better. We’re not competitive right now.” – BYU basketball coach Mark Pope

As a result of the road swing, BYU dropped to fifth place in the West Coast Conference standings (14-9, 4-4), falling even farther behind in the league race. 

What was coach Mark Pope’s takeaway from his team’s weekend performance in Northern California? 

“We’ve got to get a lot better,” he said. “We’re not competitive right now.”

Mercifully, the Cougars have a bye Thursday before they host first-place Saint Mary’s (18-4, 7-0) Saturday. The Gaels also have a bye Thursday. 

Saint Mary’s was two spots out of The Associated Press Top 25 last week. The Gaels, who crushed Santa Clara 77-59 at home Saturday, could crack the Top 25 this week. They check in at No. 6 in the NCAA’s latest NET rankings.

The Gaels are the only unbeaten team remaining in WCC play and they’ve won nine straight games. Saint Mary’s has four players averaging double figures this season, led by guard Aiden Mahoney (15 ppg).

BYU is No. 98 in the NET after Saturday’s defeat.

After the loss at USF, Pope provided a laundry list of his team’s deficiencies that were exposed this weekend. 

So what will the focus be this week as the Cougars prepare to take on Saint Mary’s?

“The whole list,” Pope said. “I wish there was one thing we needed to fix to make us bigger. What facet of the game were we actually competitive in (Saturday)? It’s hard to find one. I wish it was just one thing. It’s not.”

What does guard Jaxson Robinson, who scored 11 points against USF, including three 3-pointers, plan on focusing on this week? 

“We’re getting ready for Saint Mary’s on Saturday,” he said. “Whatever coach tells us we need to work on, we’re going to work on.” 

At the halfway point of league play, BYU has plenty of work to do. What will be determined over the next eight games is where the Cougars will finish in the WCC — either the upper half or the bottom half. But the second-half schedule includes road games at Saint Mary’s and at Gonzaga. 

This might be BYU’s weakest team in its 12 years in the WCC. Meanwhile, this league might be as strong as it’s ever been from top to bottom.

For the Cougars, that’s a not a good combination. 


Saint Mary’s (18-4, 7-0) at BYU (14-9, 4-4)

Saturday, 8 p.m. MST

Marriott Center

TV: ESPN2

Radio: BYU Radio/1160 AM