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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

First Saint Mary’s sent a message. Then BYU fans sent one too.

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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A BYU fan texts, 'These Refs are Horrible.' (Screen Grab via ESPN3.com)

Whether it's a banner congratulating Baylor's Robert Griffin III for winning the Heisman Trophy or a sign urging Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett to get well soon, BYU's student section has been very polite to opposing teams this season.

Referees, however, do not appear to receive the same courtesy.

The 22,700 fans who watched Saint Mary's defeat BYU 80-66 on Saturday night made it abundantly clear they did not think the home team received a fair shake from the officials.

They forced multiple stoppages in play throwing debris onto the floor after disputed calls. They chanted "worst refs ever" during the game's waning moments. And when cameras panned to the crowd during one second-half timeout, one man memorably held up his smart phone to display a text message that read "These Refs are Horrible."

There certainly were a few calls that went against BYU, but that shouldn't overshadow what Saint Mary's accomplished. The Gaels (20-2, 9-0) remained undefeated in WCC play by winning convincingly at an arena where the Cougars (18-5, 6-2) had lost just seven times in their past 106 games.

The road sweep of LMU and BYU this week from Saint Mary's solidifies the Gaels as the most appealing road team in the BracketBusters event, meaning organizers will have to choose whether to send them to Murray State or Creighton next month. It also puts pressure on Gonzaga to also win at BYU on Thursday, or the Zags (17-3, 7-1) may be two games behind the Gaels when the two rivals meet for the last time in the regular season in Spokane on Feb. 9.

Regardless, it will not be easy for Gonzaga to beat Saint Mary's even at home as well as the Gaels are playing. Elite guard Matthew Dellavedova went scoreless in the first half and didn't have one of his better games, yet Saint Mary's still shredded BYU's half-court defense and built a 23-point second-half lead thanks to the contributions of Clint Steindl (16 points) and Brad Waldow (19 points).

In a second half that was physical and chippy enough to belong in an octacgon, BYU rallied behind frenetic, rabid. full-court pressure, forcing 23 Saint Mary's turnovers and trimming the lead to nine in the final five minutes. The feisty defense resulted in the Cougars drawing numerous second-half fouls, drawing the ire of the crowd but also enabling the Gaels to keep the Cougars at arm's length.

If Saint Mary's has essentially wrapped up an NCAA tournament bid and is merely playing for seeding and for an outright WCC championship, BYU has no such luxuries.

Already lacking a signature non-conference win to go with solid victories over Virginia Tech, Nevada and Oregon, the Cougars are now 0-for-2 against Saint Mary's. That puts pressure on them to beat Gonzaga in Provo on Thursday because otherwise winning the WCC tournament may be the only way BYU can feel secure about an NCAA tournament bid entering Selection Sunday.

Saint Mary's got off to a strong start in WCC play last season, but hit a mid-February rough patch and missed the NCAA tournament. The way the Gaels are playing right now, it's hard to envision history repeating itself.

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