Pepperdine-Saint Mary’s (Cal) Preview

Saint Mary’s moved into the Top 25 for the first time this season after posting three more wins last week.

A matchup with reeling Pepperdine seems unlikely to slow down the Gaels.

On the verge of matching its longest winning streak of the season and hoping to stay unbeaten at home, Saint Mary’s tries for an 11th consecutive victory over the Waves on Thursday night.

Winners of seven straight and 15 of 16 - with their only loss coming 72-59 to then-No. 6 Baylor on Dec. 22 in the Las Vegas Invitational, the Gaels (17-2, 6-0 West Coast) are starting to garner some much-deserved attention.

“Obviously, there is a lot of basketball left to be played this season,” coach Randy Bennett told the school’s official site. “But, it is great for the program to be recognized nationally. The Top 25 polls give our team and our conference some added recognition and gives our fans something to be proud of.”

After beating San Francisco 87-72 on Jan. 9, Saint Mary’s handed then-No. 21 Gonzaga an 83-62 defeat three days later before improving to 13-0 at home with Saturday’s 69-61 victory over Portland.

“Great week, played three games, played well,” Bennett said. ” … There’s not be any easy ones - it’s gonna be tough. We’re learning that, we’re getting better.”

Sophomore Stephen Holt matched a career best with 21 points to go along with seven rebounds, five assists and five steals as the Gaels improved to 6-0 in conference play for the second straight season. Saint Mary’s hasn’t recorded seven consecutive conference victories since Feb. 2-25, 2008.

“In conference (play), there are scouting reports, teams are gonna know tendencies and all kind of stuff,” said Holt, averaging 14.5 points versus conference opponents - 6.2 more than against non-conference foes.

“I’ve stepped up, and as a team we’ve stepped up to the challenge. We’re happy to be 6-0.”

The Gaels don’t seem likely to get much of a test from Pepperdine (7-10, 1-5), which couldn’t keep up with Saint Mary’s during a 74-45 defeat Dec. 31. The Gaels have taken 16 of 17 from the Waves and have outscored Pepperdine by an average of 23.5 points in winning the last 10 in the series.

Since opening conference play with a 77-61 win over San Francisco, the Waves have dropped a season-worst five straight by 18.4 points per game.

Pepperdine’s struggles continued Saturday, falling 78-63 at the Dons. Freshman Jordan Baker scored a season-best 26 points on 10-of-17 shooting but was only the player to score in double figures.

In addition to trying to slow down Holt, the Waves could have difficulty containing junior Matthew Dellavedova. The 6-foot-4 guard has gone 20 of 40 from 3-point range in putting up 21.0 points to go along with 7.4 assists over his last five home contests.

The Waves, who have dropped 18 of their last 19 WCC road games, also have lost 17 consecutive matchups against Top 25 opponents by an average of 21.3 points.

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Updated Wednesday, Jan 18, 2012