No. 21 Saint Mary’s takes on BYU in WCC semifinal

The postseason is all about surviving and advancing.

On Saturday, Saint Mary’s and BYU were in survival mode before advancing to Monday’s semifinals of the West Coast Conference tournament. The winner will play either top-seed and No. 6-ranked Gonzaga or fourth-seeded San Francisco on Tuesday night at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

The No. 20th-ranked and second-seeded Gaels (28-4) erased an early 15-point deficit and squeaked by 10th-seeded Pepperdine 69-66 on Saturday night.

“We will take it,” head coach Randy Bennett said.

“Pepperdine has been playing well. It was a tough game. There was a lot of pressure on us. I wasn’t particularly happy with how we played, but I was happy with how our guys stayed together and stayed the course. Our seniors stepped up when we needed them to and we were able to escape.”

Earlier Saturday, BYU (23-9) squandered a 17-point lead and was tied with San Diego with three minutes to go before surging to an 85-79 victory.

If not for Elijah Bryant, the Cougars might be on their way back to Utah. Plagued by fouls, Bryant scored 27 points in just 26 minutes before fouling out with 2:50 to play.

“Not a surprise, it’s just kind of crazy,” Yoeli Childs said of his teammate in the postgame press conference.

“That man was just a beast out there. I just love watching him. I feel like a fan out there when I see the things he does. I swear, today he was looking like LeBron James attacking the rim and finishing. I’m so impressed and proud of my guy right here.”

Childs finished with 22 points and eight rebounds.

Two weeks ago, San Diego beat BYU, which prepared the Cougars for a physical game this time around.

“The coaches really emphasized in practice the physicality that they come with,” Bryant said. “We did a lot of drills to prepare to finish through physicality even if we didn’t get the foul call. That’s how we prepared.”

Saint Mary’s and WCC Player of the Year center Jock Landale might not have been as prepared Saturday night as they should have been for a six-win Pepperdine team. But after a slow start, Landale came alive, asserting himself after Pepperdine took a 44-37 lead.

He finished with 17 points, 19 rebounds, one steal and two blocks. In a 90-second span, Landale scored seven points to tie the game 48-48, setting the stage for Calvin Hermanson’s heroics.

Hermanson, who finished with 14 points, scored 11 straight points late in the game.

“Like Coach said, we needed to stay together and keep believing,” Hermanson said. “Grind through the storm and from there shots ended up going down in the end. Everyone was staying positive around me and I just kept shooting.”

Pepperdine’s Colbey Ross, who scored 15 points to lead the Waves, had three chances to tie the game in the final 23 seconds but missed each 3-point attempt.

Bennett knows the Gaels have their work cut out for them despite having won both regular-season games against the Cougars.

“They have changed defensively and offensively,” Bennett said. “They play more deliberate. They played more up-tempo before, but they have improved defensively. We haven’t seen them since January.”

Landale scored 32 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in a 75-62 win over the Cougars on Jan. 25. Bryant was held to 13 in that game.

On Dec. 30, Landale had 31 points and 13 rebounds in a 74-64 overtime win in Provo, Utah. Childs had 29 and 10 in the loss.