MORAGA -- Saint Mary's College didn't assure itself a spot in the NCAA tournament with its 64-57 victory over BYU on Thursday night in front of 3,500 fans at McKeon Pavilion. But the win earned the Gaels an extra night off in next month's West Coast Conference tournament.
Saint Mary's (23-5, 12-2) clinched second place in the WCC and a bye directly into the semifinal round of the league tournament at Las Vegas by staying unbeaten against BYU since the Cougars joined the conference for the 2011-12 season.
"It means a lot ... it means one less game we have to play over there," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "There's a good chance we'll play this (BYU) team again. Like to be fresh playing that one."
Playing in front of their fifth sellout crowd of the season, the Gaels erased a four-point halftime deficit with a 13-4 run opening the second half. But the victory wasn't assured until Beau Levesque made two free throws for a five-point lead with 10.1 seconds left.
The Cougars climbed within 59-57 when Brandon Davies converted a driving layup with 2:09 left. Matt Carlino had a chance to tie the game, but missed two free throws with 1:20 left.
Matthew Dellavedova made one of two free throws for the Gaels with 1:19 left, pushing their lead to three points.
Tyler Haws, the nation's No. 8 scorer, then was whistled for an offensive foul for pushing off against Dellavedova. On BYU's next possession, with about 20 seconds left, Haws
Saint Mary's improved to 4-0 against the Cougars (20-9, 9-5) over the past two seasons, and has not lost to anyone other than WCC leader Gonzaga since Dec. 23.
The Gaels barely have time to exhale before facing Creighton (22-6) of the Missouri Valley Conference in a Saturday afternoon "bracketbuster" game at McKeon.
The game against the Bluejays, with their No. 46 RPI computer ranking, is the Gaels' last chance to deliver a nonconference victory of consequence as the NCAA selection committee considers its options.
Dellavedova said the team would spend maybe 15 minutes celebrating the BYU win before turning its attention to Creighton. "They're all critical at this time of year -- we know that from past experience," he said. "It's a great opportunity for us."
"It's a good team and a win against any of those will help your resume," Bennett said of Creighton.
Dellavedova led the Gaels with 20 points, and Levesque, fighting foul trouble, added 17. But there were plenty of other contributors, including freshman guard Jordan Giusti, who had four points, two assists and two steals.
"Giusti was great for us, just making tough plays," Dellavedova said. "Everyone contributed on tonight."
That included reserve center Matt Hodgson, who twice blocked shots by Davies in the final 5 minutes.
The Gaels prevailed despite shooting just 36 percent against BYU's zone defense. "I thought it was going to be a bit more up and down, but they sat in that zone and it was a bit more of a grind," Dellavedova said. "I think we've gotten a lot grittier defensively."
Davies topped the Cougars with 25 points on 10 for 16 from the field. But Haws scored just 12 -- nearly 10 under his average -- against shared defensive work by Dellavedova and Stephen Holt.
The Gaels outscored BYU 13-4 over the opening 51/2 minutes of the second half to erase a 32-28 halftime deficit and move into a 41-36 lead.
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