Saint Mary's (Cal)-Santa Clara Preview

The Associated Press

Saint Mary's continues to dominate West Coast Conference opposition. Now, it will hit the road for the first time in two weeks when it makes the short trip to face Santa Clara on Saturday night.

The schools are separated by less than 60 miles, but they've been worlds apart in performance this season.

The 24th-ranked Gaels (18-2, 7-0) have won eight in a row and 16 of 17 to jump into the Top 25 for the first time this season. They beat Gonzaga - the top challenger for the conference title - 83-62 last week to earn the ranking and followed with home victories over Portland and Pepperdine.

Saint Mary's struggled for a bit against Pepperdine - one of the WCC's worst teams - especially after the Waves cut the lead to one in the second half, but the Gaels pulled away for a 61-47 win.

"The game got tight in the second half and we didn't panic," coach Randy Bennett said. "I trust our guys. I have confidence in the leadership out on the floor. We weren't playing that bad. They hit some shots. I thought we could play our way through it."

Senior forward Rob Jones had 17 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Gaels.

While Saint Mary's is 14-0 on its own court and seeking the school's first undefeated home record, it will have to make a few challenging road trips coming up.

After facing last-place Santa Clara, the Gaels visit Loyola Marymount and BYU, who are third and fourth in the conference. On Feb. 9, they travel to Gonzaga.

Saint Mary's has beaten Santa Clara (8-9, 0-4) five times in a row and won eight of the last nine matchups. The Gaels have also won five of seven on the Broncos' home court.

Santa Clara remains the only winless conference team and has lost each WCC game by at least 10 points. The Broncos haven't played since last Saturday, when they gave up a season-high in points to lose 95-78 at BYU. Santa Clara allowed BYU to shoot 56.9 percent and got outscored 50-30 in the paint.

"Obviously a team like that that can shoot it really well from a lot of different spots and has an inside presence, the focus is on not giving them a lot of open shots," coach Kerry Keating said. "I thought we did a good job of that in the first half. Eventually a good team like that is going to wear you down with their bench."

After facing the best-shooting team in the conference in BYU, Santa Clara now gets to play Saint Mary's, which is second in the WCC with a 48.0 field-goal percentage.

The Gaels are also second to the Cougars in scoring, averaging 76.0 points.

Kevin Foster scored 22 points to lead the Broncos last weekend and moved to No. 6 on the school's all-time scoring list. With 21 points, he can pass Steve Nash for fourth place, and Foster is 68 away from passing Kurt Rambis, who is No. 1 with 1,736 points.

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