MORAGA, Calif. — BYU’s “big three” weren’t good enough.
And the rest of the Cougars? That’s TBD.
Jordan Ford had 23 points, four assists and two steals, and Malik Fitts added 18 points, nine rebounds and four steals as Saint Mary’s picked up their first conference win of the year, 88-66 over BYU Saturday night at McKeon Pavilion in Moraga, California.
Tanner Krebs supplied 14 points and seven rebounds for the Gaels (10-7, 1-1 West Coast Conference).
Yoeli Childs had 21 points and 12 rebounds to lead BYU, and TJ Haws scored 20 for the Cougars. Childs, Haws and Nick Emery combined for 54 of 66 points for BYU (9-8, 1-1 WCC), which has now lost four of its last five games.
"They played well, but we had a lot to do with it," BYU coach Dave Rose told KSL Newsradio. "I can’t remember a game where we were so confused — offensively and defensively. I thought we had a really good mindset, but when we got down a little bit, it seemed like we scattered as a group.
"You look at the last five games we played away from home, and there’s something going on here. It starts with me; it seems like the end of the first half, I’m struggling to still find a lineup to play because of some of the inconsistencies we are having. … Then we are playing from behind, and playing from behind is difficult, especially when your team strength is on the offensive end and not on the defensive end."
Haws scored all 6 points for BYU as the Cougars tied up the Gaels, 6-6 in the opening five minutes. But the start was far from perfect, he admitted, as Saint Mary's jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first seconds — and BYU was trailing the rest of the way.
The Cougars led just three times for a total of 2 minutes, 16 seconds of game clock two days after earning their first road win of the year at Pacific.
"Splitting is doing alright in this league. I thought we came out tough in that Pacific game, and we proved if we have the right mentality defensively, it leads to transition, and we came out tough. That helped us on both ends," Haws told KSL Newsradio after the game. “But then tonight, it was the exact opposite. If you are not ready to go, teams in this league will take advantage of that.”
Ford, the conference’s leading scorer, notched his first bucket of the game on a layup with 13:52 left in the half that gave the Gaels a 10-9 lead. But BYU responded with Emery’s 3-pointer as neither team led by more than 3 points until Ford capped an 8-3 run with a steal-and-score with 8:17 left in the half.
But the Gaels used a 17-7 run at the end of the half to take a dominant 42-32 lead into the break.
Ford, after starting slow, ended the half with 12 points and two steals, while Fitts added 10 points and four rebounds for Saint Mary’s.
Krebs scored the first seven points of the second half for the Gaels, and Childs started to find his offensive rhythm.
But the Cougars couldn’t get any stops to cut into the lead. Saint Mary’s shot 54 percent from the field, including 60 percent in the second half, and strung together possessions to keep its lead around 10-15 points until the final moments.
BYU, meanwhile, shot just 39 percent from the field — and the Cougars were 1-of-6 from 3-point range, an inconsequential trey by Haws while trailing by double digits.
The Cougars, quite frankly, just couldn’t catch up, at times looking like a bus with its wheels sputtering and getting just 20 points off the bench, with 11 of them coming from Emery.
"It really takes five guys who are out on the floor to be mentally ready to go to win in a place like this. I just don’t feel like we had that right from the start," Haws said.
"We didn’t have five guys ready to go, or ready to fight."
The Cougars will (finally) return home for a game Thursday against Portland at 7 p.m. MST. Rose has seemed visibly upset at the lengthy road trip, five-straight games and back-to-back roadies following a three-game road trip to end non-conference play — the only team in the West Coast Conference to have such a schedule.
But it's the hand he's dealt, he has added each time. Now, 29 days after first setting out on the road, the Cougars will get to play back in Provo.
"I told the guys it probably isn’t fair to play five-straight road games and not have any energy in the building to try to help you overcome these issues," Rose said. "But that is what was dealt to us. We got a split, and now we’ll go home and try to find a way to win a home game."