BYU faces challenge against Saint Mary's in WCC semis

BYU somehow finds itself in the West Coast Conference semifinals and a legitimate challenger against No. 20 Saint Mary's despite having one of the least experienced teams in the nation.

The third-seeded Cougars (22-10) ranked No. 335 out of 351 teams in terms of experience, yet they have won six of their last seven games, including an upset victory at then-No. 1 Gonzaga on Feb. 25.

BYU coach Dave Rose is also succeeding despite a lack of depth. The Cougars' reserves managed one point in Saturday's 89-81 quarterfinal victory over Loyola Marymount at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

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The next challenge is a daunting one against No. 20 Saint Mary's (27-3) in a semifinal game Monday night. The No. 2-seeded Gaels swept BYU in the regular season, winning 81-68 in Moraga, Calif., and 70-57 in Provo, Utah.

"They are good," Rose said of the Gaels. "They have been good all year long. This group of guys they have been together for a couple of years. Hopefully our young guys can give it a whirl, see what happens."

In the game at BYU on Feb. 18, Saint Mary's led by 25 points with seven minutes remaining before the Cougars mounted a futile comeback late. A week later, the Cougars pulled off the upset of Gonzaga.

Rose has found it necessary to alter his lineup a few times this season because of injuries, the last to senior guard L.J. Rose, a 25-game starter lost last month with a torn meniscus in his right knee

"That's the third time we've done that, where we have actually re-invented ourselves as far as who we are starting, who we are bringing off the bench, and how we are trying to manage that," said Dave Rose, no relation.

Saint Mary's, on the other hand, has remained injury-free and started the same five players for all but one game this season.

The Gaels are holding opponents to only 56.1 points per game. They are first in the WCC and second in the nation with that stat.

Saint Mary's is first in the WCC in six statistical categories other than scoring defense: Free-throw percentage (.744, 46th in NCAA), rebound-margin (10.0, second in NCAA), 3-point field-goal percentage (39.3 percent, 24th), assists per game (16.8, 18th NCAA) and assist-turnover ratio (1.6, fourth NCAA).

"We know BYU is going to be a good team, they have a little momentum going," said Saint Mary's forward Calvin Hermanson, an All-West Coast Conference selection. "They've played us tough twice. We're excited for the challenge to face them again."

Joe Rahon, a guard, and center Jock Landale were also all-conference selections for the Gales. Landale ranks No. 26 nationally with 13 double-doubles in points and rebounds.

The Gaels' balance was exemplified against Portland with 11 shots made from 3-point range and outscored the Pilots by 20 points in the paint.

"It's fun, it's a lot of fun when we are like that and really dangerous," said Hermanson, who led the Geales with 21 points. "When our offense is clicking, it's a thing of beauty."

BYU's offense is operating well also, evidenced by its 87 points against Loyola Marymount.

After scoring only four points against Saint Mary's in the last matchup, BYU sophomore guard Nick Emery found his shooting touch at Orleans Arena against Loyola Marymount, going 5 of 7 from the field, including 4 of 6 from 3-point range.

"We are a very young team," Emery said. "Coach keeps bringing up that I am one of the oldest guys on the team. ... That is the fun part. We learn every day about how to get better. This team has a lot of fight and we are competitive guys. Now we are putting that together and showing what we can actually do. We continue to get better and better."