One of the final contests on Saturday's NCAA basketball betting slate, both squads are coming off Thursday games and get right back to business with an 11 PM (ET) tip at Marriott Center in Provo with ESPN2's cameras on hand. The Cougars opened as 7 point favorites, that spread dropping to -6 overnight. No total is showing up yet on SBR's live NCAA basketball odds, but I'm expecting it to be around 150.
At stake Saturday is no worse than a share of third place in the WCC where Gonzaga owns a 2-game lead over San Francisco heading into the weekend. Obviously, the best position to be in at the end of the regular season is first, but short of that, finishing second or third means avoiding the Bulldogs until the finals in the conference tourney this March at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
Each team has one more meeting with the Zags before then, and this is the first of two clashes between the Cougars and Gaels on the slate. The follow-up will be Feb. 15 on Saint Mary's floor in Moraga.
Both of last year's clashes went to the Gaels who enter this tilt with a 4-game win streak in the series. The road team got the cover in each get-together last season, and neither matchup ever threatened breaching the total that sportsbooks had set for them.
Gaels Coming Off Ugly Loss At San Diego
Putting Thursday's game behind them would be a very good thing for Saint Mary's (16-6 straight up, 10-9 against the spread). Randy Bennett's crew started a 4-game road trip at the San Diego Toreros, and were embarrassed as 4.5 point favorites, 61-43. It was the third spread defeat in four games for the Gaels, and the 'under' stopped a string of four straight high-side winners.
You don't have to look far to see where Saint Mary's game plan went awry as the Gaels shot a season-low 25% from the field (13-of-52). Brad Waldow was the only shooter to have any success by hitting half of his 12 shots, while the remaining four starters combined to net just 4-of-31, including 0-for-11 from 3-point land.
It was a very similar performance as the meltdown Saint Mary's suffered about a month ago at Gonzaga. No starter connected on a 3-point attempt in that game, and the Gaels were manhandled on the glass as well.
Cougs Stop 2-Game Skid With Win Over Pacific
Brigham Young (14-9 SU, 8-12 ATS) spent most of the past two weeks on the road, and the 4-game journey ended with losses at Portland and Gonzaga. The defeat at the hands of the Pilots took three overtimes to complete, and that apparently left little gas in the tank of Dave Rose's squad for the clash two days later when the Cougars applied little to no defense on the Zags in Spokane.
But they were able to recharge and bounce back with an 88-78 decision vs. Pacific two nights ago here in Provo where BYU will stay through next week. The 10-point victory wasn't enough to cover the -12.5 that Cougar backers were forced to give up, handing BYU its third ATS loss in as many games and leaving the 'over' 4-1 the past five.
That sudden burst of 'over' winners is in stark contrast to how the Cougars began the season with 10 of their first 13 lined games failing to reach the total. Softer perimeter defense is partially to blame with BYU opponents connecting on more than 46% of their treys (45-of-97) compared to just over 31% in the first 18 games.
There is going to be a sense of urgency for both teams tonight, and I like the Cougars to play within themselves better than the Gaels. The home team will be my free NCAA basketball pick in this one.
My pick: BYU -6