No. 15 Saint Mary’s looks to rebound at San Francisco

The much-anticipated game between No. 15 Saint Mary’s and No.9 Gonzaga — the first West Coast Conference meeting of Top 15 teams — turned out to be nothing more than complete domination by the Bulldogs.

Saint Mary’s had a chance to remove any doubt and take over the mantle as the best team in the WCC, but Gonzaga had a different mind-set as they controlled the game from the opening tip.

In a blink of an eye, the nation’s longest winning streak (19) was over and Gonzaga had re-established its WCC dominance.

Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett told the San Francisco Chronicle the Zags “came in with a desperate mind-set. … We didn’t play desperate enough. Whatever the psychology is behind that, you don’t know. Guys write books on it. The bottom line is … they played better.”

Guard Emmett Naar said the Gaels learned a valuable lesson.

“So there is a lot that we can learn from that game. You don’t ever want to lose, but sometimes losses can be pretty valuable in the long run.”

The Gaels (24-3, 13-1) can get back on track Thursday night when they head to War Memorial Gym to play San Francisco (14-13, 6-8 WCC), a team they beat by 36 points Feb. 1.

The Dons are coming off an overtime loss to BYU on Saturday, when they squandered a six-point lead with 39 seconds remaining in regulation.

Souley Boum had a team-high 21 points for the Dons, including a breakaway layup in the final seconds of regulation that gave San Francisco a 65-63 lead. But BYU had time to tie the game and eventually win.

In the first game against the Dons, Jock Landale scored 26 points and had 12 rebounds. Tanner Krebs went 4 of 7 from 3-point range, scoring 12 points in 19 minutes.

The Dons’ effort after that game left coach Kyle Smith scratching his head. The Gaels jumped out to a 28-14 lead and never was threatened.

“They pushed us around. I mean, it’s pretty obvious — you just watch the game,” Smith told the San Francisco Examiner. “I’m a little disappointed, honestly.

“You can get down but I didn’t think we kept fighting. We hung our heads. And you can’t against a good team and they exposed us a little bit.”

Bennett and the Gaels know the feeling after Saturday’s shellacking. They were the ones being pushed around.

Landale, who leads the WCC in points per game (22.0) and field-goal percentage (65.8), was held to four points and took only four field-goal attempts against Gonzaga.

“As soon as it touched my hands, I had two guys on top of me,” the senior center from Australia said. “This team’s not about me. I don’t have to score every possession.”

The problem for the Gaels was that no one else could score as they fell behind by 22 points. Naar, the school’s all-time assist leader, scored his first basket at the 16:30 mark of the second half. He finished with five points and two assists.

“We had a number of guys who I didn’t think played very well for us,” Bennett said. “Maybe (Gonzaga) had something to do with it.”

The Gaels are ready to put Saturday’s effort in the rear-view mirror and echo Naar’s assessment of the loss.

“It’s a reminder that we need to bring our best intensity to every game because that’s what’s going to happen if we don’t,” Calvin Hermanson told the Chronicle. “We’re ranked, we’re doing well in conference, but we can’t relax.”

Hermanson, who averages 11.3 points, went 1-for-6 and scored only three points against Gonzaga.

“A few us just didn’t come ready to play — myself included,” Hermanson said. “I had a bad game; I know that. (The Zags) did seem like they did have more energy than us at the beginning of the game. I think you could tell.”