Saint Mary's (Cal)-Loyola Marymount Preview

KATE HEDLIN
The Associated Press

Saint Mary's didn't play well in the first half during the opener of a key three-game road stretch. It would like to avoid a similar start against its next two opponents - both of which have their eyes on knocking the Gaels out of the top spot in the West Coast Conference.

The No. 21 Gaels go for their 10th straight win overall and 11th in a row over surprising Loyola Marymount on Thursday night.

After playing a home-heavy schedule to open its conference slate, surging Saint Mary's (19-2, 8-0) won at Santa Clara 93-77 on Saturday for its ninth straight victory.

The Gaels, though, trailed by one at the break before taking control with a 15-2 run in the second half. They held the Broncos to 27.6 percent shooting in the final 20 minutes and outrebounded them 53-38 for the game.

"We took a tough shot from (them)," coach Randy Bennett said. "Eventually, we slowed them down and in the second half we did a pretty good job. It just took us a while to get there."

Matthew Dellavedova scored 26 points, including five during the decisive run, while Rob Jones added 14 points and 15 rebounds. Brad Waldrow chipped in 14 points and a career-high 16 boards.

The Gaels are the only WCC team undefeated in conference play, but their two remaining games in the road stretch are against teams challenging them for the first place. After facing Loyola Marymount (12-8, 5-2), they'll take on Brigham Young - 6-2 in the conference - Saturday.

Dellavedova will try to help Saint Mary's put more distance between itself and its nearest competitors. The junior point guard, averaging 15.8 points and 6.5 assists, has scored at least 26 in three of his last five games. He's averaged 17.0 points in four career matchups with Loyola Marymount.

Despite their losing streak against the Gaels, the Lions may feel confident going into this matchup after defeating BYU and Santa Clara on the road in their last two. Loyola Marymount has also beaten two Top 25 teams this season, though it may not be too thrilled about playing Saint Mary's at home.

The Lions are 5-6 at the Albert Gersten Pavilion and have dropped two straight there. In contrast, they've taken five in a row on the road.

Anthony Ireland scored 16 of his 25 points in the second half of a 74-62 win over Santa Clara on Monday. Loyola Marymount held the Broncos to 35.7 percent shooting.

"I thought this was one of those games we were going to have to dig deep and find a way to get a win," coach Max Good told the Lions' official website. "We did a good job defensively and forced them to work for each possession down the stretch."

Loyola Marymount, which hasn't posted a winning conference record since 2005-06, has given up 71.4 points and 43.6 percent shooting in its last five home games. The Lions are allowing 66.4 points and 38.6 percent from the field on the road.

Ireland has scored 20.0 points a game in the last six contests - 4.1 above his team-leading average.

Saint Mary's has won by an average of 19.0 points during its 10-game run in the series, though two of the last three matchups were decided by single digits. The Gaels have taken the last five road meetings by nearly 20 points per game.