Saint Mary’s beat BYU 80-66 in a 71-possession game Saturday night. I was there. This is what I saw.

Randy Bennett’s track record on defending the three-point line is incredible.

For eight consecutive seasons, Saint Mary’s has finished in the top ten in three-point attempt defense. They’re on their way to a ninth consecutive season. I’m not sure why this stat doesn’t get more run, but the ratio of three-point percentage defense references to three-point attempt defense references is approximately 950:1 in the media, yet they’re equally important.

Sure, opponents convert threes at a decent rate against the Gaels (35.6% this season), but since they’re not taking that many three-pointers, it isn’t a big issue. Not that anybody is going to overcome a 23-point second-half deficit to Saint Mary’s anyway, but SMC’s ability to prevent three-point attempts makes it easier for them to protect a lead.

BYU normally takes a third of its shots from beyond the arc but in two games against Saint Mary’s just 20% of their shots have been threes, and the Cougars have been playing with a double-digit deficit for most of those 80 minutes. BYU has needed to shoot threes and they haven’t been able to do it.  Kudos to Gaels’ head coach Randy Bennett, a man with an unwavering and yet largely unnoticed defensive strategy.

Saint Mary’s now roots for BYU

Here’s how things stand in Pool A of the WCC

St. Mary’s 3-0
Gonzaga 0-1
BYU 0-2

The Gaels will clinch Pool A, and essentially the top seed in the WCC tournament, should BYU be able to regroup and knock off Gonzaga Thursday night. Otherwise, despite being unbeaten in WCC action, they may need to fight off Gonzaga in Spokane on February 9 to finally break the Zags strangehold on WCC regular-season titles.

Officials: Can’t live with ‘em. Pass the beer nuts.

You are probably aware of the kerfuffle that took place earlier on Saturday when Karl Hess missed a blatant goaltend towards the end of the West Virginia/Syracuse. As is customary when these cases come up, Hess’s schedule was cited as a contributing factor to the missed call. Hess worked every day this past week except Friday. No doubt, a few days off here and there would make Hess a better official. However, officials are like people in any other profession in that some are better than others. Kendall Marshall is much more tired than Stilman White and the end of every North Carolina game, but that is hardly reason for Roy Williams to play Stilman White.

Where am I going with this? Well, the Saint Mary’s/BYU game was not an officiating masterpiece. In fairness, it would have been a challenging game even for the best officials. The home fans are going to have a beef with the officiating no matter what when the home team is down by 12 at the half in a big game. And for whatever reason, many of the fans in the Marriott Center were armed with projectiles which eventually forced the officials to call a technical on the crowd early in the second half. In addition, the game was extremely physical with 48 fouls called and there could have been 10 more.

That said, the game probably could have been handled better. Randy Bennett got a bizarre technical at one point while yelling instructions to his players. BYU head coach Dave Rose picked up his second technical in seven years on the job late in the game. If coaches could freely talk about officiating, I’m guessing neither of these two would have had flattering things to say about this game.

This season, the officials in this crew had worked 24, 27, and 27 games respectively; compared to the 57 that Hess has worked. Yet there were still knowledgeable people unhappy with the officiating. The simple fact is that we don’t know how fresh the officials were in this game – surely they’re like a lot of people in that they each have jobs that take up too much of their time. The time that this crew isn’t reffing, they are expending energy and losing sleep being lawyers or accountants or whatever, while Karl Hess’s crew is reffing games. That’s not to say the way officials are assigned games couldn’t be improved. But while simply asking the best officials to cut back on their schedule might feel good, it isn’t going to solve much.