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Saint Mary’s ‘got us out of our stuff’ as BYU offense freezes up in 2nd half of WCC semifinals loss to Gaels

Saint Mary’s scored 12 unanswered points and in the end, guard Jordan Ford buried a jumper with 1.4 seconds left to carry the Gaels past BYU 51-50 in the West Coast Conference semifinals at Orleans Arena Monday night.

SHARE Saint Mary’s ‘got us out of our stuff’ as BYU offense freezes up in 2nd half of WCC semifinals loss to Gaels
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Brigham Young Cougars guard TJ Haws (30) walks off the court as the Saint Mary’s Gaels celebrate their last-second victory over the Cougars in the WCC semifinal game at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Monday, March 9, 2020.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

LAS VEGAS — It might have been No. 14 BYU’s worst 12-minute stretch of the season. And it came at a bad time.

After Yoeli Childs knocked down a 3-pointer with just under 13 minutes remaining, giving the Cougars a seven-point lead over Saint Mary’s, BYU experienced a brutal nine-minute drought without a field goal that saw it miss nine consecutive shots against an aggressive Gael defense.

In the meantime, Saint Mary’s scored 12 unanswered points and in the end, guard Jordan Ford buried a jumper with 1.4 seconds left to lift the Gaels past BYU 51-50 in the West Coast Conference semifinals at Orleans Arena on Monday night.

With the win, the No. 3 seed Saint Mary’s (26-7) snapped the No. 2 Cougars’ nine-game winning streak and advanced to Tuesday’s WCC championship game against top-seed Gonzaga, which survived a scare and beat San Francisco 81-77 in the other semifinal matchup. 

“It wasn’t a pretty game but it turned out good for us. It was just a battle. Neither team was real good offensively,” said SMC coach Randy Bennett. “It was a great win. I was proud of our guys for hanging in, being gritty and doing things you need to win a game like that. You find out what your toughness is like in those games. Ours was good.”

In the second half, BYU shot a miserable 24 percent (6 of 25) and finished the game with 15 turnovers. 

“Saint Mary’s did a great job of being physical with us and turning up the tempo defensively and we couldn’t respond,” said BYU coach Mark Pope.

“They were very physical. I think that this is going to help us and make us better,” said Childs, who finished with a game-high 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. “Postseason basketball, you’re allowed to play a lot more physical. I guess we weren’t ready for that tonight on the offensive end. We’ll take that, learn from it and prepare for the next step.”

Asked if not playing a game for nine days affected the Cougars (24-8), Childs said, “I don’t think that really impacted our performance. We just weren’t prepared for the nature of the game today. Saint Mary’s was tougher than us and they were more physical than us. They really got us out of our stuff.”

“It wasn’t a pretty game but it turned out good for us. It was just a battle. Neither team was real good offensively. It was a great win. I was proud of our guys for hanging in, being gritty and doing things you need to win a game like that. You find out what your toughness is like in those games. Ours was good.” — SMC coach Randy Bennett

“I think they did a good job of taking us out of what we normally do,” said guard Jake Toolson, who scored 11 points and had eight rebounds. “They were very physical with us. They took the ball from us. Moving forward, we need to share the ball and play with more force to get those shots that we’ve gotten all season long.”

BYU led by as many as 11 early in the second half. During the Cougars’ extended shooting slump, Ford scored eight points, including a pair of free throws after Pope was whistled for a technical foul.

The Gael defense clamped down hard on BYU, which hit just 7 of 18 3-pointers and none over the final 12 minutes. Toolson and TJ Haws combined to go 5 of 21 from the floor and 4 of 12 from 3-point range. As a team, the Cougars were 9 of 15 from the free-throw line.

Saint Mary’s offense wasn’t very good, either, hitting only 4 of 18 from 3, but on this night, it was mostly about the defense. 

“That was definitely the reason why we won tonight. Clearly, our offense wasn’t there. But a lot of guys stepped up,” said Gael forward Malik Fitts. “Kyle Bowen did a really good job of guarding Childs. Tommy Kuhse did a really good job of keeping Haws in front and keeping him from going off. A lot of guys stepped up.”

BYU led 50-49 and had the ball when Fitts blocked a Childs’ layup attempt with one minute remaining. With 23 seconds left, Childs missed a shot close to the basket and Saint Mary’s grabbed the rebound.

With 7.2 seconds on the clock, the Gaels called a timeout to set up their final possession.

Ford, who scored 42 points in last Saturday’s double-overtime thriller against Pepperdine in the quarterfinals, took the inbounds pass in the backcourt and then drove toward the basket while being defended by guard Alex Barcello. 

“We kind of cleared it out for me. Everybody was telling me to get the basket. In my head I was thinking, ‘Get them downhill a little bit, then stop on a dime and shoot it,’” Ford said. “I liked the matchup. He’s a smaller defender so I could get the shot over him. I knew I would be able to get a clean look.” 

“He’s a really talented player. He got downhill and stopped on a dime and collected himself. (Barcello) was guarding him well,” Pope said. “He just got his balance off and (Ford) hit a 17-footer. It was good defense and better offense. In hindsight, schematically, I could have made some changes to approach that better. But it’s a big-time player making a big-time, game-winning shot.” 

The Cougars played without starting forward Kolby Lee, who was unable to practice this week due to symptoms of nausea, vomiting and mild dehydration. 

Gavin Baxter replaced Lee in the lineup, starting his first game after burning his redshirt a month ago. Baxter played 18 minutes and scored five points and recorded a blocked shot. 

“I hope we’re in the tournament somewhere. Just let us go play.” — BYU coach Mark Pope

“Gavin’s been making progress the last several weeks. I thought he actually played well tonight. He really competed and helped us in a lot of ways,” Pope said. “Certainly, we missed the depth Kolby offers us. It’s about rising up and overcoming that. We look forward to getting him back and hopefully getting Dalton (Nixon) back and having a full team again as we try to jump into this (NCAA) tournament.”

Asked about the officiating in the second half, Pope said, “I thought the officials were fine. They were consistent … It was a poor job of coaching on my part.”

Now the Cougars have to wait until Selection Sunday to find out where they will be playing in the Big Dance — and what seed they will have attached to their name. 

How will Monday’s loss affect their seeding? 

“I have no idea,” Pope said. “I hope we’re in the tournament somewhere. Just let us go play.”