Red-hot Saint Mary’s will take aim at its 11th straight victory and a regular-season sweep of San Francisco when the West Coast Conference rivals clash on Thursday night at Moraga, Calif.
The No. 18 Gaels (19-4, 8-0) have defeated the Dons (15-9, 4-5) seven straight times, including a 78-61 road victory on Jan. 14.
Saint Mary’s guard Logan Johnson scored 24 points and Aidan Mahaney made five 3-pointers and had 21 points in the first meeting.
Mahaney also is the reason the Gaels’ winning streak wasn’t halted on Saturday night against BYU.
The Cougars had a one-point lead before Mahaney made a tough turnaround jumper over the tight defense by Fousseyni Traore with 0.4 seconds left to give the first-place Gaels a 57-56 victory over BYU in Provo, Utah.
“I just wanted to give us a good look (and) look for the best shot,” Mahaney said afterward. “It went up and it went in and then the rest is history.”
Mahaney, a freshman, leads Saint Mary’s with a 14.7-point scoring average but had just 10 against BYU after scoring at least 20 in three of the previous four games.
“I think I could have played better (Saturday), but for us to grind out a win …,” Mahaney said. “We highlight gritty as a word for our team, and that’s kind of how I would define what happened.”
Mahaney is one of four Saint Mary’s players averaging double digits in points. Mitchell Saxen averages 12.6 points and a team-leading 8.2 rebounds, Johnson averages 12.2 points, and Alex Ducas contributes 12.1 per game.
The Gaels ranked fifth nationally in scoring defense, through Monday’s games, at 57.9 points per game.
Perhaps the biggest challenge on Thursday for Saint Mary’s will be not peeking ahead toward a Saturday home showdown against No. 12 Gonzaga.
San Francisco, though, will look to post the upset. The Dons, who have won their past three games, were disappointed in their recent home matchup against the Gaels.
Saint Mary’s shot 50.8 percent from the field while San Francisco shot 42.3 percent. The Gaels also scored 16 points off the Dons’ 12 turnovers.
“We for sure want to play better than we played the first time against Saint Mary’s,” San Francisco coach Chris Gerlufsen said. “I don’t think that was indicative of our team.”
The Dons’ top two scorers both struggled in the first contest. Tyrell Roberts (15.5 ppg) had just 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting, and Khalil Shabazz (15.3) tallied just six on 1-of-11 shooting.
Shabazz saw his struggles continue in the first game of San Francisco’s three-game winning streak when he had just two points in a 78-57 home victory against Pacific. However, he rebounded with 21 points in an 82-74 win over BYU and matched his season best of 26 on Saturday in San Francisco’s 94-81 road victory over San Diego.
The Dons shot 61.8 percent from the field against the Toreros and had five players score in double digits. Zane Meeks and Roberts each scored 15 points, and reserves Ndewedo Newbury and Marcus Williams added 13 apiece.
Now the task is putting together a similar outing against the Gaels.
“We’ll keep it very short-sighted,” Gerlufsen said of the preparation. “I think that’s helped our group. We haven’t looked too far ahead and we’ve just worried about the daily process of getting better, and it’s helped our team.”
–Field Level Media