BYU’s strong defensive effort propelled it to a 70-59 win over No. 25 Saint Mary’s as the Cougars improved to 17-7 overall and 8-3 in the West Coast Conference.
The Gaels had only lost one conference game prior to the Cougars’ victory and still lead the WCC. St. Mary’s beat BYU 85-74 on New Year’s Eve in Moraga,California in the first game of conference play.
BYU head coach Dave Rose said this was their “toughest challenge” of the season.
“You have to beat them,” Rose said. “They’re not going to beat themselves.”
Freshman Jakob Hartsock saw his first career start and made an early 3-pointer to give the Cougars some momentum. BYU held two five-point leads in the first half but St. Mary’s went on a 7-4 run heading into halftime with the Gaels up 37-33.
Sophomore center Corbin Kaufusi said the coaching staff spoke at halftime about playing with more energy.
“Defense is all about energy,” Kaufusi said. “So to come out in the second half and get that little boost helped a lot.”
BYU tied St. Mary’s 39-39 on a jumper from junior forward Kyle Davis with 15:28 left in the second half, electrifying the ROC student section and the entirety of the Marriott Center. The Cougars then went on a 15-4 run to increase their lead, 54-48.
Rose said he thought the team played “much better” in the second half and attributed it to defensive play.
“We were a little bit quicker to the ball, we were a little more active with our hands, we rebounded well,” Rose said. “Our big guys played really well, especially defensively, protecting the rim.”
BYU held St. Mary’s to just 34 percent shooting from the field and senior guard Chase Fischer was more than pleased with the Cougars’ effort defensively.
“They missed a couple shots that they usually make,” Fischer said. “But it was an impressive defensive effort for us when some shots weren’t falling.”
Fischer said the team likes to play in transition and is comfortable doing so.
“We really thrive in transition, we have a lot of players who like to be in transition, but the key to that is rebounding,” Fischer said. “I think we saw that tonight.”
Senior guard Kyle Collinsworth leads BYU’s program history in career assists and rebounds and is currently second in steals. He scored 11 of his 17 points in the second half and recorded nine rebound and seven assists.
Fischer led the Cougars with 19 points and recorded his 32nd career game with three or more 3-pointers. Davis and freshman guard Nick Emery scored eight points a piece, while Kaufusi had seven points and three blocks on the night. Freshman guard Zac Seljaas drained his first and only shot beyond the arc in 12 minutes of play after sustaining a shoulder injury against Loyola Marymount last week.
The Cougars return to the Marriott Center on Saturday to host Pacific before heading out on a two-game road trip to play San Francisco Thursday, February 11 and Santa Clara Saturday, February 13.