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BYU Men’s Hoops: Cougars focus on execution against Saint Mary’s

January 25, 2018 GMT

The first time BYU played Saint Mary’s this season, the Cougars made just a handful of mistakes defensively.

The Gaels made them pay … every time.

As the two teams prepare to meet again on Thursday — this time in Moraga, California — Saint Mary’s is flying high with a 14-game win streak and a No. 16 ranking. Senior center Jock Landale (22.4 points, 10.2 rebounds per game) is practically a shoe-in for West Coast Conference Player of the Year and the Gaels have won four straight against the Cougars, including a 74-64 overtime win in Provo on Dec. 30.

“I think it’s pretty safe to say right now they’re in a little run of probably their best teams that they’ve had in the history of their program,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “They’re pretty impressive.”

Just as impressively, Saint Mary’s has won three huge WCC road games — at Gonzaga, at BYU and at Pacific — by making the clutch plays down the stretch.

“I think our plan (for the last game) was pretty good,” Rose said. “He (Landale) was still good enough to beat us. Hopefully we can get one more turnover or one more missed shot or one more rebound and at the end of the game we’re one or two ahead.”

BYU has played pretty well the past few weeks, winning four straight games and finding a little more offensive punch.

Still, it will be the execution over a 40-minute stretch in Moraga that will determine the outcome against the Gaels.

“I feel like we’re getting a lot better in that aspect,” BYU sophomore Yoeli Childs said. “I feel like we’re getting better every day. We’re a lot better team than we were last time we played them. We’re a lot better executing our offense and our defense. I definitely think game experience helps out a ton but it’s something you can work on in practice and it comes with repeating the details, being able to continuously play the right way.

“A lot of times in practice when we’re playing the scout team, we start getting … what does coach say? Too cute? Yeah, we start getting too cute and trying to make fancy plays and all that stuff. So just working on being disciplined and doing the right thing every time has helped us out a ton.”

While Landale was 13 of 15 from the floor and scored 31 points against BYU last time, Childs countered with 29 points and the Cougars held Saint Mary’s to just 5 for 22 (23 percent) from the 3-point line until the last few minutes of the game and overtime. The Gaels made 4 of 7 from beyond the arc at that point, taking advantage of a few BYU defensive breakdowns to secure the game.

“I think we’re a better team now,” Rose said. “They (Saint Mary’s) are very, very good at executing late in the game when it’s really close. They did it in three road games they won, so they’ve been tremendous. All were one-possession games and they make the play. That’s a step that we could really get to, where we don’t have empty possessions on the floor the last two or three minutes.”

Total recall

Since the start of the 2016-17 season, Saint Mary’s is 44-3 at McKeon Pavilion and has won 13 straight in Moraga. BYU’s last win in the series came in 2014 — a 60-57 victory. Current Cougar Luke Worthington was a freshman that season. He scored one point and grabbed four rebounds in 19 minutes but remembers the game for a different reason.

“I remember separating my AC (shoulder) joint, that’s my biggest recollection of that game,” Worthington said. “That’s what I remember. It hurt pretty bad, but we walked out of there with a win and it was a really satisfying feeling. I just have a feeling that we need to do it again and that we should do it again and that’s what’s going to happen. Because this is the best team I’ve played on, and I’m excited to go snag this one.”

Good on ’ya, mate

Saint Mary’s will celebrate Australia Day on Thursday by handing out 500 T-shirts to students before the BYU game. Australia Day is actually Jan. 26 and a national celebration day in Australia, noting the landing of the British First Fleet at Port Jackson in 1788.

The Gaels have provided basketball opportunities for plenty of those from the Land Down Under. Assistant coach Marty Clarke, a native of Australia, has been instrumental in bringing over many of those players. There are six Australians on this year’s Saint Mary’s roster — including starters Landale, point guard Emmett Naar and Tanner Krebs. Former Gaels Matthew Dellavedova (Milwaukee Bucks) and Patrick Mills (San Antonio Spurs) are still plying their wares in the NBA.

Dalt is back Sophomore forward Dalton Nixon, who missed 11 games with an ankle injury, played seven minutes last Saturday against San Diego. Rose said Nixon is ready to return to the key role he was playing before his injury.

“For us the matchups could be a little bit different with Dalt back,” Rose said. “Dalt gives us another look, and brings another post guy in there with physicality and some strength.”