Saint Mary's (Cal)-Gonzaga Preview

The Associated Press

It was almost a month ago when Saint Mary's blew out Gonzaga to essentially take control of the West Coast Conference race.

With their sights set on the school's first outright league title in 23 years, the No. 16 Gaels look to move closer to achieving that goal when they try for a 13th consecutive victory Thursday night in a rematch with the Bulldogs in Spokane.

One win away from setting a school record for the best start in league play, Saint Mary's (22-2, 11-0) is on pace to end Gonzaga's run of 11 consecutive WCC regular-season titles - the second-longest streak in Division I history. The Gaels, averaging 79.8 points and shooting 49.8 percent in conference play, have not won an outright WCC title since 1988-89.

"We're still hungry,'' said sophomore guard Stephen Holt, who scored a season-high 23 points in Saint Mary's 84-73 win over San Diego last Thursday. "We still haven't accomplished our goal - to win the WCC championship.''

A second straight victory over the second-place Bulldogs (18-4, 8-2) would widen Saint Mary's cushion atop the conference. The Gaels snapped a 15-game skid at Gonzaga with a 73-71 victory there last January. They have not won consecutive games in Spokane since the 1989 and 1990 seasons.

"We have a lot to lose," Gonzaga center Sam Dower said. "They really don't have anything to lose."

The Gaels, who have not lost since falling 72-59 to then-No. 6 Baylor on Dec. 22, went 30 of 59 from the field and held Gonzaga to one of its lowest scoring games of the season with an 83-62 home victory Jan. 12. Star junior Matthew Dellavedova scored 26 points while 6-foot-9 freshman Brad Waldow added 17 with 10 rebounds.

Waldow and the Gaels outplayed the Bulldogs inside, outrebounding them 36-33 and holding 7-foot Gonzaga star Robert Sacre (11.7 points, 6.6 rebounds per game) to four points and three boards.

"We definitely defended well inside," Dellavedova said. "We worked really hard on our defense. We had confidence we could win the game.''

Among the nation's most underrated players, Dellavedova (15.5 ppg, 6.4 assists per game) has averaged 23.7 points in the last three games versus Gonzaga. He scored 15 while teammate Rob Jones also had 15 and pulled down 13 rebounds in Spokane last season.

While Saint Mary's appears on cruise control, Gonzaga could use a big victory Thursday to possibly get hot down the stretch. Winners in five of six since losing to the Gaels, the Bulldogs understand the obstacle they face, not only in this contest, but trying to continue their dominance in the WCC.

"There is pride, but I don't think we think about it," said Sacre, who has averaged just 8.4 points and 5.0 rebounds in nine games versus Saint Mary's. "We focus on playing basketball and let everything else work itself out."

Sacre and freshman Kevin Pangos each scored 15 points as Gonzaga went 22 of 44 from the field to bounce back from a 10-point road loss at BYU with a 72-60 victory at Pepperdine on Saturday.

Gonzaga has won eight straight conference home games since losing there to Saint Mary's.

"We've got the No. 1 team in the league coming into our home floor," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "We're going to have to play very, very well."

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