Although a loss in its last game wasn’t costly in terms of West Coast conference standings, Saint Mary’s knows it cannot afford another defeat.
The No. 25 Gaels (23-4, 10-1) look to bounce back from a tough non-conference loss Monday when they host San Diego, the only team to have beaten them in West Coast play.
Saint Mary’s six-game winning streak was snapped Saturday with a 65-57 loss to Kent State in its first home game following a three-game road trip. The non-conference loss didn’t hurt the Gaels in the standings, though, and they remain tied for first place with Gonzaga, which plays at Portland on Monday.
San Diego (16-12, 9-2), meanwhile, has won eight of its last nine - including a 63-55 victory over then-No. 21 Saint Mary’s on Jan. 28 - and is in third place, just one game behind the Gaels and Bulldogs.
After the loss to the Toreros, the Gaels won those six games by an average of 22.8 points. Saint Mary’s, though, shot a season-low 32.8 percent from the field Saturday, and Diamon Simpson was the only player to score in double figures with 24 points and 15 rebounds.
Leading scorer Patrick Mills, who averages 14.8 points, was held to just five on 2-of-11 shooting. The Gaels were 3-for-16 from 3-point range after making 17 of 29 on Monday against Pepperdine.
“We’re a team that averages more than eight 3-pointers a game,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “We have to be better than that. We had some good looks. We have to knock them down.”
The Gaels came into Saturday’s game averaging 83.9 points at home, but they were unable to protect a nine-point second half lead. The loss was their first at McKeon Pavilion in 15 games.
“We were all careless when we had a chance to separate,” Bennett said. “But credit them. They made shots down the stretch and we didn’t.”
The Gaels’ schedule doesn’t get much easier in the final weeks of the regular season. After this game, Saint Mary’s closes out its regular season on the road against both No. 24 Gonzaga and Portland.
San Diego is coming off a 66-62 win over Santa Clara on Saturday. The Toreros shot 51.2 percent and had four players score in double figures, led by Rob Jones, who scored 24 points on 10-of-12 shooting. Brandon Johnson had 14 points, seven assists and five steals.
Johnson is third in the conference in scoring at 16.4 points per game, had 25 in the Toreros’ win over Saint Mary’s and averaged 18.2 points in five career games against the Gaels.
San Diego has won its last two visits to Saint Mary’s and six of its last nine trips.