No. 22 Saint Mary’s takes aim at its 10th consecutive victory when it visits BYU on Saturday night in West Coast Conference play at Provo, Utah.
The Gaels (18-4, 7-0 WCC) have struggled in recent road games against the Cougars, losing the last four since winning 74-64 in overtime on Dec. 30, 2017.
Saint Mary’s holds a one-game lead over No. 14 Gonzaga in the WCC race behind a defense that ranks fifth nationally in scoring at 57.2 points per game.
Gaels senior swingman Alex Ducas said preparation, diligence and hustle are crucial elements of playing defense at Saint Mary’s.
“Guys are able to switch when we need them to switch,” Ducas said after Saturday’s 77-58 win over visiting Santa Clara. “Everyone understands their role on defense and knows how to execute it to a high level. We don’t have any guys that take plays off.
“We try to play every possession as hard as we can, and I think it shows.”
The Gaels have held five teams under 50 points this season. The fewest they allowed came in a 63-33 rout of North Texas on Nov. 13.
Saint Mary’s forced 14 turnovers in the win over Santa Clara and had a 24-4 edge in points off miscues.
Offensively, the Gaels shot 52.6 percent from the field and made 9 of 20 shots from 3-point range. Aidan Mahaney made four treys while scoring at least 20 points for the third time in four games and the sixth overall time this season.
School legend Patty Mills (eight) is the only Saint Mary’s freshman to rack up more 20-point outings than Mahaney, who averages a team-best 15 points per game.
Mitchell Saxen added 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting and Logan Johnson and Ducas added 13 points apiece. Ducas made all three of his 3-point attempts.
“Our guys are really inspiring with how hard they played,” Gaels coach Randy Bennett said afterward. “I was surprised we were able to separate from (Santa Clara) like that.”
BYU (14-9, 4-4) has lost two straight games and four of its past six.
The Cougars are coming off a sloppy 82-74 road loss to San Francisco that left coach Mark Pope perturbed.
“I thought our energy and effort is not what we expect as a team,” Pope said after Saturday’s game. “I thought we were supremely outcoached. I felt like our fight was lacking. Our defense really failed us. We are still starting out the game poorly and turning the ball over. We had no presence on the offensive glass.
“It’s hard to find something that we did good tonight. Players, coaches, everybody.”
Perhaps Rudi Williams’ offense qualifies as a bright spot after he scored a season-high 28 points on 10-of-13 shooting off the bench. Williams also scored 24 points two nights earlier when the Cougars lost 83-76 at Santa Clara.
The back-to-back solid performances allowed Williams to take over the team scoring lead at 12.8 points per game.
Fousseyni Traore averages 12.4 points and a team-best 7.8 rebounds per outing. Gideon George (11.4 ppg) and Spencer Johnson (11.3) also average in double digits for BYU, which is 9-2 at home.
The Cougars have won three of the past four meetings, including a split of last season’s two meetings.
–Field Level Media