No. 11 St. Mary’s, No. 12 Gonzaga meet in WCC showdown

The Saint Mary’s Gaels don’t worry about streaks and schedules. Just ask them.

“Saturday will be just like any other game,” All-America candidate Jock Landale told the San Francisco Chronicle, referring to Saint Mary’s matchup with Gonzaga. “Our guys don’t think about those things, but we have a lot to do even after Saturday to make sure we get things right.”

Just another game?

Consider:

Saturday’s renewal in Moraga, Calif., of one of college basketball’s best rivalries west of the Rockies is the first West Coast Conference meeting of Top 15 teams (the Gaels are ranked 11th, and the Zags 12th).

Saint Mary’s (24-2, 13-0 WCC) comes in with a 20-game win streak and one game lead over Gonzaga (22-4, 12-1).

The Bulldogs have won 22 conference road games in a row.

Gonzaga has won or shared 16 of the past 17 WCC titles. The other one? That went to Saint Mary’s in 2012.

And there’s the matter of payback: Saint Mary’s upset Gonzaga on Jan. 18 in Spokane, Wash.

So Round 2 between the WCC’s two Goliaths is a big deal, no matter what the players and coaches say.

“The competition of those two teams going at it is enough,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said, according to sfgate.com. “You can make other stories, whether it be revenge, whether it be a league title, whatever.

“But the bottom line is just two teams going at it. Both are going to be pretty excited to play, I think.”

A win would give Saint Mary’s a two-game lead with four to play — a virtual hammerlock on the regular-season title.

To avoid that, the Zags will need to figure a way to contend with Landale.

The 6-foot-11 center, who has seven 30-point games this season, made 12 of 15 shots, scored 26 points and grabbed 12 rebounds as the Gaels erased a nine-point second-half deficit to win 74-71 at Gonzaga last month.

Do the Zags have better answers this time around?

“I can’t give away the secrets,” Gonzaga forward Johnathan Williams said. “I’ll let you guys find out on Saturday.”

Williams, who’s 6-foot-9, long-armed, 6-foot-10 sophomore Killian Tillie and 6-foot-11 freshman Jacob Larson will all see time against Landale.

On Thursday, Gonzaga beat Pacific 71-61. It was the fourth straight grind-it-out win for the Bulldogs, who won their first five WCC games by an average of more than 35 points.

“We were far from perfect, but we were tough and we just found ways,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few told the (Spokane, Wash.) Spokesman-Review.

The Bulldogs led by as many as 13 points in the second half but never delivered a decisive blow against the Tigers. And they had similar performances in wins over San Francisco, San Diego and BYU.

“We’ve navigated our way to where we’re back into the hunt for a league championship,” Few said. “(The first game against Saint Mary’s) was a tough loss where we led for long stretches of the game and didn’t quite finish it off.”

In their past four wins, the Zags have finished off games from the free-throw line, making all 23 attempts in the final three minutes of those games.

Few will also need improved shooting from his point guard and better passing from his team in the second half.

Josh Perkins had five assists with just one turnover against Pacific on Thursday but was 2 of 11 from the floor and missed all six of his 3-point attempts.

The Bulldogs average 16.5 assists per game, but had just three in the second half — and none in the final 10 minutes — in their first meeting with Saint Mary’s.