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Home crowd could play critical role in BYU hoops' showdown with Saint Mary's

Home crowd could play critical role in BYU hoops' showdown with Saint Mary's

(Ivy Ceballo, KSL)



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PROVO — The crowd was raucous for every minute of game time, even if the numbers were lower than expected at just over 10,000 fans in the Marriott Center.

But a fun-loving BYU home crowd dragged itself to a mid-conference game against Pepperdine, showing out for everything between a pregame moment of silence in honor of the late Lakers legend Kobe Bryant — when the clock stopped at the 8:24 mark of the pregame session — to a program record-tying 17th 3-pointer by BYU-Hawaii transfer Taylor Maughan in the final seconds of a 107-80 win over the Waves.

It’s a home crowd environment unlike anything in the West Coast Conference.

And boy, do the Cougars — ranked No. 18 nationally in Friday morning’s predictive metrics on KenPom with the No. 29 NCAA NET — need a home-court boost this weekend.

BYU (16-7, 5-3 WCC) will welcome Saint Mary’s in a crucial home showdown Saturday (8 p.m. MST, ESPN2) that could — some might say, should — decide the No. 2 seed in the West Coast Conference Tournament in Las Vegas.

It’s also the kind of win the Cougars need, with just one Quadrant 1 game on their current team sheet used by the NCAA selection committee and coming off last week’s stunning loss at San Francisco.

Led by Jordan Ford (21.2 ppg) and Malik Fitts (16.3 ppg, 7.5 rebounds), the Gaels are looking to sweep the regular-season series with BYU for the third time in four years.

Good thing BYU has its home crowd behind it, right?

Brigham Young Cougars guard TJ Haws (30) celebrates following the Cougars’ victory in Provo on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. BYU defeated the Pepperdine Waves 107-80. (Photo: Ivy Ceballo, KSL)
Brigham Young Cougars guard TJ Haws (30) celebrates following the Cougars’ victory in Provo on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. BYU defeated the Pepperdine Waves 107-80. (Photo: Ivy Ceballo, KSL)

“It’s one of the things that makes this place special,” BYU coach Mark Pope said. “It can be imposing, it can get other teams excited — but the best thing about it is all of us feel like we’re in this together. And the more full the gym is, the more people that are in it, the more our guys feel that it has a real impact. That’s a big deal; it’s a huge advantage we have, and we’ve got to make use of it.”

Pope played in a lot of tough, big, loud arenas during his career. He counted Kentucky’s legendary Rupp Arena as his home court as a collegian, and spent time in every NBA arena during a nine-year pro career that included stops with the Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets.

So he knows a thing or two about big-time atmospheres. And his message to his players is simple: don’t take it for granted. Use every advantage it can give you — and that’s a lot for an arena that is by far the largest in the conference, with an official capacity of 18,987 for basketball.

“I think when this place is full and loud and rowdy, it changes everything. I feel like it helps our team, it gives us energy, we really feed off that. You can make big runs, and it’s so fun to hit a shot or get a stop and listen to that crowd get loud.

“It’s as loud as I’ve ever experienced. This place gets pumping.”

Just ask Kawhi Leonard, Jimmer Fredette or any of the myriad pro players who have come through Provo in previous seasons — against BYU or with BYU. There’s something special about a packed Marriott Center, the Cougars’ cathedral to college basketball that was built in 1971 to host prophets and apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “I think when this place is full and loud and rowdy, it changes everything,” BYU guard TJ Haws said. “I feel like it helps our team, it gives us energy, we really feed off that. You can make big runs, and it’s so fun to hit a shot or get a stop and listen to that crowd get loud.

“It’s as loud as I’ve ever experienced. This place gets pumping.”

Or even ask Jake Toolson, who started his career in Provo, played as an opponent during two years at Utah Valley, and has returned to lead the team in shooting (No. 2 in scoring, behind Yoeli Childs' 21.2 points per game) for the Cougars’ best shot at an NCAA Tournament bid in four years.

“I think playing at home when it’s loud is a huge advantage for, well, us now,” said Toolson, who scores at a 16 point-per-game clip. “I’ve been here as an opposing player, and I remember how that felt in visiting the place. It’s never easy to withstand the noise and the adrenaline.

"The bump that it gives us now, when we’re playing at home and the crowd is giving us energy, it’s a lot of fun.”

How to watch, stream, listen

What: Saint Mary's (19-4, 6-2 WCC) at BYU (16-7, 5-3 WCC)

When: Saturday, Feb. 1, at 8 p.m. MST

TV: ESPN2 (Dave Flemming, Dan Dickau)

Stream: WatchESPN

Radio: BYU Radio 89.1 FM, KSL 1160AM/102.7 FM (Greg Wrubell, Mark Durrant)

Series: Saint Mary’s leads 15-14

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