PROVO — After BYU fell at Pacific last Thursday on the front end of its Northern California road trip, the Cougars were understandably discouraged.
BYU had just lost its fifth West Coast Conference road game of the season, and its NCAA tournament at-large hopes were severely damaged.
“The guys, I mean, they were down” during breakfast Friday morning, coach Dave Rose recalled.
But by Friday afternoon, following a shootaround and team meetings, Rose’s players had a bounce in their step again and they seemed energized.
“You never know how it’s going to carry over to the game,” Rose said.
With a little less than eight minutes remaining in the first half Saturday at St. Mary’s, BYU found itself trailing by 14 points.
The Cougars rallied, though, and ended up defeating the Gaels, 60-57, to sweep the regular-season series with St. Mary’s. Going into the season, BYU had never beaten the Gaels as members of the WCC.
The Cougars shot 57 percent in the second half, made some huge defensive plays, held St. Mary's to 4-of-19 shooting from 3-point range on the night, and Matt Carlino and Skyler Halford knocked down clutch free throws in the final five seconds.
"Any win you get on the road is a grind-it-out win," said guard Tyler Haws. "It takes everyone competing and trying to execute a game plan for 40 minutes. That's what we tried to do. ... A lot of stuff doesn’t go your way on the road. You have to overcome a lot of odds. We figured out a way.”
"We choked a little bit," said St. Mary’s coach Randy Bennett. "It happens. It happens all the time. You don't want it to."
The Gaels also squandered a 14-point first-half lead against BYU in an 84-71 loss in Provo on Feb. 1.
With Saturday’s victory, BYU (18-10, 10-5) jumped back into second place in the conference standings, and resuscitated its shaky at-large NCAA tournament hopes.
“It gives us a boost of confidence,” forward Nate Austin said of the win in Moraga, Calif. “This is a place we’ve never won. It’s a tough place to play. Most teams come in here and get losses. It gives us confidence moving forward.”
And the Cougars will need plenty of confidence. Next up for BYU is league-leading Gonzaga Thursday (9 p.m. MST, ESPN2) at the Marriott Center.
The ‘Zags (23-4, 13-1) need one more win to secure another outright WCC regular-season championship. Gonzaga pounded the Cougars 84-69 on Jan. 25 in Spokane, Wash.
BYU can certainly enhance its NCAA tournament resume if it can defeat the Bulldogs at home.
“We’re confident,” said Haws. “Anytime we can get back in the Marriott Center, we love it. Obviously, it’s going to be a challenge, but we’re really excited for it.”
Meanwhile, the Cougars are looking to get healthy before Thursday.
Guard Kyle Collinsworth landed awkwardly on his right leg in the first half of Saturday’s game. He returned later in the half, and he finished with 14 points, six rebounds and three assists.
“It was a gutsy performance in the second half by him,” Rose said of Collinsworth. “By the looks of it, I thought — and it happened right there in front of us — that it would be the end for him in this game, and you just hope it wasn’t more serious. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Meanwhile, freshman forward Luke Worthington suffered a right shoulder injury in the second half, though he also returned to the game with his shoulder taped.
Rose is expected to update the condition of both players later this week.
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