No. 15 Saint Mary’s eyes share of WCC title vs. Pacific

no-15-saint-mary’s-eyes-share-of-wcc-title-vs.-pacific

No. 15 Saint Mary’s will have important business to tend to first, in advance of a highly anticipated rematch with No. 12 Gonzaga that looms on the horizon.

The Gaels host Pacific on Thursday night in Moraga, Calif., and a victory would allow Saint Mary’s to grab a share of the West Coast Conference regular-season title for the first time since 2015-16.

Gonzaga has won the crown the past six seasons but the Gaels (24-5, 13-1 WCC) are in the driver’s seat thanks to their 78-70 overtime home win over the Bulldogs on Feb. 4. Saint Mary’s plays the Zags in Spokane, Wash., on Saturday night in the regular-season finale.

The Gaels protected their WCC lead with a 71-65 home victory over BYU last Saturday. It was their 15th win in the past 16 games.

Logan Johnson scored 27 points against the Cougars for his third stellar outing in four games. Johnson scored a then-career-high 31 points in a 78-74 overtime road loss to Loyola Marymount on Feb. 9 and established a new one two nights later, when he tallied 34 in an 81-64 road victory over Portland.

Johnson shot 60 percent or better in each of the big outings, including 12 of 19 against BYU. Two nights earlier, he missed all three field-goal attempts and had just three points in a 62-59 road win over San Diego.

“I try to pick my spots and I felt like I wasn’t being myself in San Diego,” said Johnson, who ranks second on the Gaels with a 13.8 scoring average. “It’s always a goal to be more aggressive. … Whenever I can find those gaps and be aggressive and play my brand of basketball, which my teammates and coaches encourage me to do, I feel there’s no telling what can happen.”

Gaels coach Randy Bennett is on board with Johnson’s on-court style.

“Logan’s inspiring, the way he plays,” Bennett said. “He plays so hard. He’s a really smart player, too. He gets everybody in that arena going and he gets everybody on the team going and he certainly gets himself going.”

Aidan Mahaney leads Saint Mary’s with a 15.1 scoring average while Alex Ducas and Mitchell Saxen each contribute 12.2 per game. Saxen is the leading rebounder at 8.4. Ducas (73) and Mahaney (67) have combined for more than 60 percent of the Gaels’ treys.

Saint Mary’s is playing Pacific for the 125th time but has dominated the recent meetings, winning 15 of the past 16.

The Tigers’ most recent victory was memorable — 107-99 in quadruple-overtime on Jan. 4, 2020.

Pacific (13-16, 6-8) has lost its past two games and four of five.

The Tigers had six players score in double digits on Saturday but lost 90-88 to host Loyola Marymount.

Pacific led by 11 with 3:23 left before the Lions closed with a 15-2 surge. Loyola Marymount held a 34-22 rebounding advantage and an 11-2 edge in second-chance points.

“Rebounds and second-chance points were the difference,” Tigers coach Leonard Perry said afterward. “We had the lead, got crucial stops, but couldn’t get the rebounds.”

Judson Martindale was 8-of-9 shooting and matched his season best of 19 points. Keylan Boone scored 15 points to inch his team-best scoring average to 14 per game. Jordan Ivy-Curry (10.3) and Luke Avdalovic (10.1) also average in double figures.

–Field Level Media

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