Thursday night will mark BYU’s inaugural West Coast Conference game (11:00PM EST, ESPN2), as the Cougars will hit the road to take on the reining regular season conference champions in Saint Mary’s.
BYU enters the contest with a record of 10-3 overall. Of their three losses, two have come against a tough Wisconsin club, and undefeated Baylor squad whom they took down to the final shot.
BYU is without Jimmer Fredette, who is now a member of the Sacramento Kings, but this year’s team has bounced back well and features a more balanced attack.
The Cougars are led by senior Noah Hartsock who averages 17.5 points per game and is shooting nearly 60% from the floor. Hartsock is efficient in every phase of the game and can be counted on down the stretch from the free throw line. Junior Brandon Davies gives the team a boost in the post, averaging a team-high 7.2 rebounds, to go along with 11.2 points per game.
UCLA transfer Matt Carlino has burst onto the scene for the Cougars, averaging 17.3 points per contest. Carlino may the X-factor for BYU if they are going to pull off the huge road victory, as he is shooting a red-hot 54.5% from downtown.
In what will be their first-ever WCC game, since leaving the Mountain West Conference a year ago, BYU will face a stiff test as they head to McKeon Pavilion.
The gym has a small capacity of only 3,500 and has been notoriously known for being a difficult place to play.
Saint Mary’s enters the game with an 11-2 mark overall, and has only been defeated by Denver (10-2) and Baylor (12-0).
Head coach Randy Bennett and the Gaels won the regular season championship last year, but were surprisingly left out of the NCAA Tournament field after getting bounced in the first round of their conference tourney. However, they are out to avenge last year’s late season failures, as they return many of their key contributors.
Senior Rob Jones is heavily relied on in the paint for the Gaels, averaging double-figures in both scoring and rebounding. Much of their offense is based around perimeter shooting, and Jones gives them the stability down low, a factor which will be key in their match-up on Thursday night.
The heart and soul of the team is junior guard and Australian-native Matthew Dellavedova. Dellavedova distributes the ball extremely well (6.3 APG) and hardly ever leaves the floor averaging 35.2 minutes per game.
The contest may mark the beginning of a future rivalry between two mid-major programs on the rise.
*Photo: Matt Carlino *Credit: yahoo.com
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