BYU (15-9, 7-4 WCC) got off to a slow start on Saturday night in Provo while playing host to St. Mary's (16-7, 6-4 WCC) but overcame their sluggish play late in the first and exploded in the second half to secure a 84-71 victory, and a share of second place in the WCC with strong shooting from Tyler Haws and relentless inside play by Kyle Collinsworth to pull away from St. Mary's down the stretch.
The Cougars were their own worst enemy to start the first half, with three straight turnovers putting them in a 6-0 hole, with their only points in the first four minutes of the game coming on two Tyler Haws free throws. St. Mary's effectively utilized James Walker III to keep Haws largely under wraps during the majority of the first half.
The Gaels put the pressure on the Cougars the entire first half with strong guard play on offense and an aggressive and suffocating defense and built on their early lead, holding a 21-10 advantage in the first ten minutes of the action. The quick blitz of points and physical play took the teeth out of the Marriot Center crowd early, and BYU looked shell shocked by the aggressiveness of the Gaels. Austin again faced foul trouble early, as Brad Waldow's strength inside forced BYU into double teams, unsuccessfully trying to knock the big center off of his rhythm. Waldow's physicality was a double edged sword, however, as foul trouble limited his effectiveness in the second half.
The Cougars were dominated in the early going by St. Mary's on the offensive glass, allowing several second chance opportunities after good defensive pressures by failing to box out the offensive players crashing the boards.
Haws, guarded aggressively by Walker, remained silent until about 5:50 left in the first half, when hit his first field goal, and followed that with a great kick-out assist to Anson Wilder that brought the home fans surging back with a vengeance. BYU rode the crowd's energy to close within six points down the home stretch of the first half. BYU took advantage of a match-up advantage with Kyle Collinsworth to come storming back, and Haws electrified the crowd with a three off of a high ball screen before Collinsworth gave the Cougars their first, short lived lead with less than a minute to go in the first half before Waldow put the Gaels back on top 38-27 to end the half.
In the second half, BYU took the lead on strong play from a resurgent Haws, coming out quickly and using the speed of their guards to carve up the Gaels' zone and get open looks on the perimeter. The Cougars balanced their offensive attack with aggressive and swarming defense, frustrating Waldow to the point that he drew a technical foul and had to ride the bench, opening up the inside lane for Eric Mika and Collinsworth to attack the paint and open up a double digit lead that they would not relinquish. Without Waldow's strong presence inside, BYU pulled away in the second half, running away with the game from that point. St. Mary's lost their poise toward the end of the game, when Garrett Jackson appeared to elbow Mika in the face following a box out and was ejected for a flagrant 2 foul.
Only Haws and Collinsworth finished in double figures, with 33 and 20 points, respectively, but the Cougars benefited from a strong bench that contributed to the strong effort by their two main scorers. Collinsworth finished one rebound shy of a double double. For St. Mary's, in addition to Waldow's 25, Walker contributed 11 and Stephen Holt finished with 16, but the Gaels were unable to generate enough points against a resurgent BYU inside defense that smothered put back opportunities, contributing heavily to the Cougars' second half dominance, as they outscored St. Mary's by 14 in the final period.
The victory gives BYU a share of second place with San Francisco in the West Coast Conference behind Gonzaga with seven games to go until the conference tournament and sets them up with a great opportunity to make their case for the Big Dance in March.
BYU will continue their four game home stand next week with games against Santa Clara and San Francisco coming to town and a great chance to take sole possession of second place in the conference with an eye toward the February 20th home rematch vs Gonzaga.
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