Saint Mary's (Cal)-Gonzaga Preview

The Associated Press

Gonzaga beat up on Saint Mary's for more than a decade, but that's hardly been the case over the last few years.

Looking to avenge a loss in last season's West Coast Conference title game, the No. 9 Bulldogs try to slow down Matthew Dellavedova and the visiting Gaels in an early season showdown Thursday night.

Since winning 28 of 31 matchups from 1999-2010, Gonzaga (15-1, 2-0) has gotten all it can handle - and then some - from Saint Mary's (12-3, 1-0). Led by Dellavedova, the Gaels have taken four of seven in the series, including a 78-74 overtime victory March 5 to win the league's tournament championship.

Saint Mary's also won the 2011-12 regular-season WCC crown, snapping Gonzaga's run of 11 straight outright or shared titles.

"They've done it for a long time," Dellavedova said of the Bulldogs. "We're just trying to do our thing and keep getting better as a program ourselves because they've done it for so long. We're just trying to keep pushing hard to see how much better we can get."

The Australian senior, posting 17.4 points and a league-high 6.7 assists per game this season, has averaged 22.6 points in his last five matchups versus Gonzaga.

"It starts with him and it ends with him," Bulldogs forward Elias Harris said of Dellavedova. "He's their main guy ... and the way he reads the court and finds his teammates is incredible. It's really a load. It's hard, even as a team, to guard him. It's going to be a great challenge."

While the Gaels have lost to Pacific, Georgia Tech and Northern Iowa, the Bulldogs' only blemish came in an 85-74 loss to then-No. 13 Illinois on Dec. 8. Gonzaga has since strung together six straight victories, most recently winning 81-74 at Santa Clara on Saturday.

Junior Kelly Olynyk led the way with a career-high 33 points and 10 rebounds as the Bulldogs finished a 3-0 trek, previously winning at then-No. 22 Oklahoma State and Pepperdine.

"It was a great road trip. Probably the best I've ever been on in 25 years," coach Mark Few said. "We're in the most difficult stretch I've ever been a part of."

The Gaels, meanwhile, enter Thursday seeking a season-best fifth consecutive win after opening league play with Saturday's 74-61 victory over Loyola Marymount. Dellavedova had 17 points and eight assists while James Walker III and Beau Levesque scored a combined 23 off the bench.

"We just really wanted to get a good start to conference," Dellavedova told the school's official website. "We knew they were going to be physical, so we just wanted to come out and be more ready to play."

Saint Mary's figures to be in for a much more difficult test at the McCarthey Athletic Center, where Gonzaga has taken 18 straight against unranked opponents by an average of 23.1 points.

Although the Gaels won 73-71 at Gonzaga on Jan. 27, 2011, they dropped to 1-16 over their last 17 visits to Spokane with a 73-59 defeat Feb. 9.

"It's a challenge," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "As a player or a coach, you're a competitor and you look forward to tough challenges. This is a tough challenge. We all look forward to it that way. You try to bring your best when your best is needed and that's what we need."

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