March midness: BYU falls to Saint Mary’s 76-69, likely ending season

Well, at least BYU can kiss WCC basketball goodbye for good.

BYU men’s hoops bid farewell to its current conference digs Monday with a 76-69 loss to Saint Mary’s in the WCC semifinal in Las Vegas, likely bringing an end to one of the more underwhelming campaigns in recent program memory.

“We wish we had performed better, but we gave ourselves a chance. We weren’t quite ready to start this game. It took us a long time to find our emotional fight,” BYU head coach Mark Pope said. “This team has been brilliant in their effort. Their ability to get off the mat and complete is pretty special.”

The Cougars trailed by as many as 26 points to the Gaels, yet cut the deficit to just four with a minute remaining before finishing just short, bringing BYU’s tournament run to a screeching halt following two wins in Vegas.

Spencer Johnson led the Cougars with 13 points, while Richie Saunders continued his excellent tournament showing with 11 points, four rebounds and a pair of steals on defense.

The loss most likely brings an end to BYU’s season, with an NIT bid appearing to be a long shot and team sources indicating the Cougars would not pursue a different non-NIT opportunity. While BYU could very well receive an NIT invitation and enter that tournament field, such a scenario should not be necessarily expected.

If this is indeed the end of BYU’s 2022-23 campaign, it leaves a bitter taste: the program’s first-ever losing conference record in WCC play, the somewhat terrifying future of Big 12 competition, plenty of speculation surrounding offseason roster turbulence and a possible Pope exodus from Provo. It will be arguably the most important offseason in program history, with question marks everywhere prior to BYU’s Power 5 promotion.

But at least BYU’s WCC days are over.

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