No. 15 BYU aims to end conference title drought vs. Saint Mary’s

NCAA Basketball
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BYU has nothing to fret about when it comes to the NCAA Tournament field, but the Cougars still view the West Coast Conference Tournament as something of major importance.

That is because No. 15 BYU hasn’t won a conference tourney title in 19 years.

The second-seeded Cougars begin their quest to end the drought when they face third-seeded Saint Mary’s on Monday in the semifinals of the WCC tourney in Las Vegas.

The Gaels reached the semifinals by outlasting sixth-seeded Pepperdine 89-82 in double-overtime on Saturday night. Saint Mary’s star senior point guard Jordan Ford scored a career-best 42 points while playing all 50 minutes and he said he’ll be ready for BYU.

“It’s going to be a dogfight,” Ford said during a postgame interview on ESPN2. “I know both teams will be ready for it.”

Meanwhile, the Cougars last won a conference tournament crown in 2001 when they were a member of the Mountain West. Not even the Jimmer Fredette era from 2008-11 could net a tourney title.

BYU star big man Yoeli Childs is very much aware of the famine.

The Cougars received a double-bye due to their second-place regular-season finish and Childs says the team is looking to change history by notching two victories.

“It would be incredible. I think we’re due,” Childs told the Deseret News. “It’s time. We’re all so locked in on that.

“We’re locked in on taking one game at a time. We’ve been lucky enough to put ourselves in a position where it’s Monday and Tuesday. If we take care of business Monday, then we’ll worry about Tuesday. Yeah, we’re due. It’s about time we take care of business.”

Childs and the Cougars enter Monday’s game with nine straight victories, including a stellar 91-78 home victory over top-seeded Gonzaga on Feb. 22.

Childs is one of three seniors who made the WCC’s 10-member all-conference first team. Guards TJ Haws and Jake Toolson are the others.

Childs led the WCC with a 22.2 scoring average and also collected 8.9 rebounds per game. Haws averaged 14.3 points and 5.8 assists while Toolson made a team-best 82 3-pointers while averaging 15.3 points.

The trio makes BYU a dangerous club, but coach Mark Pope isn’t interested in looking past the semifinal contest.

“It’s going to be monstrous. It’s going to take everything we have,” Pope told the Deseret News. “I hope we get to have that conversation where we’re engaged in the game that would give us the chance to do that.”

The Cougars and Saint Mary’s split two close games in the regular season with both teams winning on their home floor. The Gaels notched an 87-84 overtime victory on Jan. 9, and BYU recorded an 81-79 triumph on Feb. 1.

Saint Mary’s is considered an NCAA Tournament at-large team by prognosticators no matter how it fares in the tournament, but Ford isn’t too interested in hearing that chatter.

He hasn’t forgotten that the Gaels were 28-5 on Selection Sunday two years ago and got passed over by the NCAA selection committee.

“We come into this thing and we think we’re not a lock,” Ford said on ESPN2. “One time, we felt like we got snubbed so we come in and try to take it one game at time and try to act like we’re not in the tournament and try to win the championship.”

Ford has recorded four straight 20-point efforts and has reached the mark 20 times this season. The first-team All-WCC selection was 17-of-30 shooting — including 5-of-12 from 3-point range — in the superb outing against Pepperdine as he increased his average to 21.8.

His 42 points were one shy of the school record set by Jim Moore against Sacramento State on Dec. 12, 1964.

–Field Level Media

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