BYU excited for crucial rematch

Brock Zylstra

Ask Brock Zylstra what it's like for BYU to be a bubble team and face a lot of pressure to win each game, and he'll tell you that he and his teammates think it's a lot of fun. After all, as he said, each game means something. Brandon Davies said they view each game as do or die. Well, no remaining game this regular season will likely mean as much as Saturday's rematch against No. 20 Saint Mary's.

The 17-2 Gaels, who beat BYU 98-82 on December 29, are the lone unbeaten team in WCC play.

"We all remember what happened to us down there in California and the feelings that we had walking out of that arena not feeling the greatest, and so we know this game is big for us," said Brock Zylstra, who had only four points last time against the Gaels. "We need to get this win and we need to fix the things that we didn't do as well down there."

"We're all excited," said Brandon Davies, who noted that BYU has no more room for error. "We can't wait to play Saint Mary's again and be able to get that second take at them."

Last time around, the Gaels seemed to score at will. Forward Rob Jones scored 24 points, while guards Stephen Holt and Matthew Dellavedova scored 21 and 18, respectively. Guard Jorden Page also reached double figures with 13 points. Saint Mary's shot 12-of-25 from outside.

Zylstra said that BYU's defensive rotations need to be much better this time than they were in the first game between the two teams.

Meanwhile, both Zylstra and Coach Rose said that Dellavedova is one of the best point guards in the country. A junior, he was moved to the point this year after previously playing at shooting guard.

"Well I think they found his natural position, because he's a great floor leader, and he doesn't play with a lot of the things that normal point guards seem to have to have as far as great speed [and] great lateral quickness, but he is really smart and he knows where to pick his spots," said Coach Rose. "And then he's so skilled. I mean, his ability to find open players, his ability to know when to make a shot for himself has been outstanding."

"He's good at what he does," said Davies. "He creates open shots for his teammates, and it's going to be a part of our game plan to get him stopped and not let him get going like he did, and he's a great player and great players find ways to get things done."

While Rose and his players praised Dellavedova's passing in particular – Zylstra said his eyes and vision are just amazing – the junior guard is also a scoring threat.

"His ability to score the ball is really underrated," said Rose.

The Cougars themselves scored pretty well in the first match, thanks in large part to Davies' game-high 28 points. The Gaels opted to not double Davies in the post, and he made them pay. He doesn't know whether they will alter their strategy this time, but is determined to have another big game.

"We're all expecting to play well," said Davies. "We all know that we gotta play better than we did out there, and that includes myself and everyone else on the team."

The Cougars may have scored 82 points in that first game, but Saint Mary's can still pose some problems defensively.

"This team is really tough defensively," said Rose. "They don't get a lot of credit for how tough of a team this is. They challenge every shot, they rebound really well, they compete really hard at the rim."

The Cougars could have played with more composure at Saint Mary's.

"They really sped us up," said Rose. "We got really impatient offensively. We had a lot of one-pass shots. I think we're a lot better [than we were then]. I hope we are, but we'll see."

Back on December 29 the Cougars shot 7-of-13 outside. In the past three games, however, they've made only 9-of-60 from outside.

They are encouraged, however, by the fact that they made crucial shots late in their 70-68 win at Virginia Tech on Wednesday.

"We'll always keep shooting regardless of what the percentages are, but the last maybe eight minutes or whatever it was at Virginia Tech we were 4-for-9, which is a great percentage obviously," said Zylstra. "And they were shots that were important shots, so I think that gives a lot of confidence going forward."

After Damarcus Harrison made the team's only three in the first half, Zylstra, Noah Hartsock, Charles Abouo and Matt Carlino each made a big three in the second half. Zylstra's three with 26.5 seconds left in the game broke a 66-66 tie against the Hokies and gave BYU the lead for good.

It was his only score of the game. He said he thought most of his other four shots were going to go in, as they felt good going off his hand. Still, Zylstra said the Cougar teammates and coaches all have confidence in players to make shots, and one won't see them pass up open shots.

They'll need to make those open shots on Saturday. Judging by what Saint Mary's did to BYU the last time around, the Randy Bennett-led Gaels will be a big test for the Cougars.

"Randy's got himself a really good basketball team and this will take a real effort for us, and hopefully we can do those things differently," said Rose. "We can be tougher, we can be patient, we can execute a little bit better, and we can play a little bit better. We can handle the runs that they're gonna put on you, because that's what they do. They're a quick-scoring team, they got four shooters on the floor at all times, and they got a great point guard that can find them."

The Cougar fans camping outside the Marriott Center aren't the only ones excited about the rematch.

"I think that if the players look forward to this challenge as much as the coaches look forward to this challenge, then you're gonna have a great night," said Rose. "I think [for] our players, this is why they come. They come to play in front of a full house and play nationally ranked teams."

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