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Provo • Having played 12 of 16 basketball games away from the Marriott Center since the beginning of December, the BYU Cougars returned home last week thinking they needed to go 4-0 in this homestand to get back into the West Coast Conference regular-season title chase.
So far, so good.
The Cougars blew out Loyola Marymount 87-62 on Thursday night no surprise there and then met considerably more resistance on Saturday against a Pepperdine team that had defeated them three straight times, including 71-65 the week before in Malibu. BYU (16-7, 7-3 WCC) didn't exactly boat race the Waves like it did their traveling partner from Los Angeles, but took a solid 88-77 win to reclaim third place with eight games remaining in league play.
"Guys made plays," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "Nick [Emery] made a couple plays where he got his hands on balls, and we were able to get out and get an easy basket. I think that it is how you win. Guys have got to execute a game plan, and when it comes down to big possessions, you have got to come up with them. Our guys did that. We hit some big free throws tonight [20 of 30]. It is a big win. It is a really good win for us."
A win in the next game against league-leading Saint Mary's on Thursday would be even bigger for a team that had pretty much avoided injuries until Thursday night, when freshman sharpshooter Zac Seljaas suffered a right shoulder contusion. Seljaas, who is averaging 7.7 points per game, missed Saturday's sellout (18,987) and is day-to-day, Rose said.
"Hopefully it is just a matter of being swollen and restricted, and once the swelling goes down he will be able to [get] more range of motion each day," Rose said. "We look forward to early in the week to see what he can do. We really need Zac. We got great minutes out of some other guys [such as Jakob Hartsock], which is a really good sign for us to kind of grow our team. But it would be nice to get him back as soon as we can."
Like on Thursday, when the 18-2 Gaels roll into town, fresh off Saturday's come-from-behind 68-65 win at pesky Pacific. The Gaels trailed 63-56 with just over four minutes remaining, but improved to 9-1 in WCC games with a 12-2 run as Joe Rahon, Calvin Hermanson, Jock Landale and Emmett Naar made big plays late.
The game in Provo, where BYU has won 16 straight, will mark the first time Saint Mary's has played outside the state of California since last year's WCC Tournament in Las Vegas. But Rose and company are expecting a barn-burner after Saint Mary's drubbed them 85-74 in Moraga on Dec. 31.
"Well, they just execute offensively really well," Rose said. "They are a really, really disciplined team that can kinda grind you down. That pick and roll, they run it as well as anybody, and they've got really good shooters from the perimeter. We had a lot of opportunities in that game. Offensively, we have to be a lot better."
Pepperdine shot 47.5 percent against the Cougars, but committed 16 turnovers and was just 3 of 13 from 3-point range. Saint Mary's is considerably more efficient on offense.
"Defensively, that will be a tough preparation week for us, to figure out how we are going to guard that pick and roll," Rose said. "They are really good at it."
Kyle Collinsworth became BYU's all-time leading rebounder on Saturday, having become the school's leader in career assists the week before. He said the key to beating the Waves (14-8, 7-4 WCC) was answering every run with a scoring spurt of their own. Against SMC the first time, BYU took a brief lead early in the second half after trailing by 13 in the first half, but couldn't sustain the advantage.
"Personally, I am just getting tired of not doing that," he said. "So, we weren't going to do that tonight. ... We had that focus the entire game, that every play, every possession, is huge. We've done a better job of that. Every game, every practice, is one day at a time. Like I said earlier, every game is the championship game for us. That's where we are at right now. We have to play hard, like it is the championship game. We had that mindset the whole night, and that's why we made those plays."
Saint Mary's at BYU
P Thursday, 7 p.m.