LAS VEGAS — Alex Ducas scored 23 points to lead four Saint Mary’s players in double figures, and the No. 16 Gaels held off a late BYU rally for a 76-69 victory Monday night in the West Coast Conference semifinals.
The Gaels (26-6) will play in their fourth WCC title game in five years Tuesday night, facing No. 9 Gonzaga or San Francisco. Saint Mary’s will try to win its first tournament championship since 2019.
BYU (19-15) will wait to see if the NIT has a spot. The Cougars have a NET ranking of No. 85, so they are at best on the bubble. If they don’t make the postseason, this was their last game as a WCC team; the program joins the Big 12 Conference next season.
Aidan Mahaney scored 18 points, Mitchell Saxen had 12 and Logan Johnson 10 for Saint Mary’s.
Spencer Johnson led BYU with 13 points, Richie Saunders scored 11 and Rudi Williams added 10.
It was BYU’s first loss on a neutral court this season after going 7-0, including 3-0 in Las Vegas. The Cougars beat then-No. 21 Creighton in November and won their first two games of this tournament.
Both regular-season games between Saint Mary’s and BYU were close, with the Gaels winning by a combined seven points.
The third meeting looked like a runaway early. Saint Mary’s went an 11-1 spurt to go up 20-8 and ended the first half with a five-point possession thanks to a dead-ball technical to go into halftime ahead 37-20.
BYU also went into a cold spell, going scoreless between a basket from Jaxson Robinson with 4:54 left in the first half until Spencer Johnson’s layup 11 seconds into the second period.
Saint Mary’s went ahead by 26 in the second half before the Cougars put together a 10-point run, cutting the deficit to 56-40. The Gaels played the remainder of the game as if they couldn’t wait for Tuesday, and BYU went on a nine-point spurt to get to 64-56 with 4:50 left.
The Cougars got within 72-69 with 32.1 seconds to go before Kyle Bowen made a fast-break layup and Mahaney sank a free throw to give Saint Mary’s some breathing room again.
BYU: This being the final WCC event for the Cougars, they clearly need an upgrade if they’re going to compete in the Big 12. They are young, with seven players on the roster freshmen or sophomores, but landing a couple of top players in the transfer portal will be crucial.
Saint Mary’s: The Gaels played far from a perfect game. They went more than five minutes in the second half without a field goal, and missed 13 free throws. Saint Mary’s was on its heels after BYU went on a 10-point run. That sort of play could easily result in a loss in the WCC championship or NCAA Tournament.
Saint Mary’s will play for seeding in the NCAA Tournament when it faces Gonzaga or San Francisco. BYU will wait to see if the NIT comes calling or perhaps another tournament such as the CBI, if the Cougars would even entertain a bid.
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