Santa Clara-Saint Mary's (Cal) Preview

The Associated Press

Despite losing its last game, Saint Mary's remains in control of the West Coast Conference. A meeting with Santa Clara seems highly unlikely to hurt its chances of winning it.

The 16th-ranked Gaels will try to bounce back Saturday night when they host last-place Santa Clara, which has lost a school-record 12 straight.

Saint Mary's (22-3, 11-1) could have given itself a big edge in the West Coast race Thursday, but instead it struggled to a 73-59 loss to second-place Gonzaga. The defeat snapped a 12-game winning streak and dropped the Gaels' lead to 1 1/2 games over the Bulldogs.

The game was tight in the first half, but the Gaels came out cold following the break. They shot 28.6 percent in the second half and were outrebounded 40-26 for the game.

Rob Jones and Stephen Holt combined for just eight points after accounting for 51 during the team's previous game against San Diego. Holt went scoreless after averaging 13.6 points during the win streak.

Despite the problems on offense, Saint Mary's was just as frustrated by its defensive effort.

"For the first 25 minutes, our defense was like good to OK," said Matthew Dellavedova, who had a team-high 20 points. "But we broke down and they were getting a lot of penetration and hitting a lot of open 3s."

While Gonzaga was 7 of 15 from beyond the arc, Saint Mary's went 5 of 21. Dellavedova was 2 for 7.

Dellavedova, who averages a team-high 15.7 points, scored 26 in a 93-77 win over Santa Clara (8-16, 0-11) on Jan. 21.

For Broncos coach Kerry Keating, it's clear where his team's focus should be Saturday if they hope to upset the WCC leader, whom Santa Clara has lost six straight against.

"I told someone that everybody wants to talk about, '(The Gaels) lost Omar (Samhan) and then they lost Mickey (McConnell).' Well, with all due respect to those guys, they're not the most important player on this team," Keating said, referencing Saint Mary's top scorers the previous two seasons.

"Dellavedova was on those two teams, too. He's the most important player in that program from Day 1, and he's proven that."

Keating's team matched a school record for consecutive losses with an 85-69 defeat at San Francisco on Thursday. The slide is the longest during one season. Santa Clara also lost 12 in a row Feb. 27, 1943-Jan. 15, 1946.

The Broncos' latest defeat was another tough one. After losing by five at San Diego last Saturday after nearly rallying from 19 points down, they failed to protect an early 11-point lead against the Dons.

San Francisco shot 66.7 percent in the second half en route to 53 points.

Santa Clara went 14 of 23 beyond the arc. Raymond Cowels III scored 21 points and Denzel Johnson added 20, but the team was held to nine points during an 11 1/2-minute stretch of the second half.

Johnson has started the last five games in place of Kevin Foster, the conference's leading scorer at 17.8 points per game despite missing the last six for a rules violation. Johnson has taken advantage of the additional playing time, averaging 19.3 points in the last three games.

Starting guard Evan Roquemore came off the bench in Thursday's loss after suffering a foot sprain, but he finished with 14 points.

The Broncos are 0-9 on the road this season. They have lost four straight on the road to Saint Mary's.

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