Saint Mary's (Cal)-Stanford Preview
Twelfth-ranked Saint Mary's owns the highest ranking in school history this week, and the Gaels (5-0) might even climb into the top 10 next week if they win their game at Stanford on Wednesday (11 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network).
This might be the Gaels' toughest game so far, partly because it will be on their opponent's home court and partly because the Cardinal (6-1) played well in a recent tournament in Orlando, Fla.
Although Stanford lost to Miami (Fla.) in its first game of the AdvoCare Invitational, it rebounded to beat Indiana State 65-62 and Seton Hall 66-52 in its next two games.
First-year Stanford coach Jerod Haase was particularly pleased with the way his team responded after Seton Hall shot out to a 20-10 lead Sunday.
“They punched us in the mouth the first 10 minutes and we kind of stumbled back,” Haase said, according to the Bay Area News Group. “I challenged them. I'm so proud of how they bounced back and contained it for the last 30 minutes.”
Guard Dorian Pickens was the Stanford star of the two tournament victories, hitting the game-winning 3-pointer against Indiana State and scoring 21 points in the win over Seton Hall.
“Dorian is so smooth, so confident, so fluid,” Haase said.
Pickens shoots 50.7 percent overall, 45.2 percent on 3-pointers and 84.6 percent from the foul line. He provides a challenge for Saint Mary's backcourt of Joe Rahon and Emmett Naar, both of whom were all-West Coast Conference selections last season and played a solid game in the Gaels' 76-63 victory over UAB in Las Vegas on Sunday.
“Our guards really did a good job of controlling the game,” Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said.
Rahon and Naar had seven assists apiece in that game, and both played all 40 minutes.
Naar also made 2 of 3 3-pointers and has hit 54.5 percent of his long-range shots this season. Stefan Gonzalez came off the bench to hit 4 of 6 3-point shots against UAB, improving his season success rate from beyond the arc to 55.6 percent.
“Got some big minutes out of Stef,” Bennett said. “He hit some big shots for us.”
The Gaels are outstanding shooters, making 39.8 percent of their 3-point shots and 82.7 percent of their free throws, which ranks third in the country.
Despite the strong play of Pickens, Naar and Rahon, the biggest scoring threats of both teams reside in the paint.
Stanford's 6-foot-8 Reid Travis scored in double figures in all seven games and is averaging 17.4 points on 55.4 percent shooting while collecting 10.1 rebounds a game. The Gaels' 6-11 Jock Landale averages 21.0 points (on 76.3 percent shooting) and 9.2 rebounds.
The Cardinal have a second inside presence in Michael Humphrey, an athletic 6-9 post player who has not been as productive as expected. He averages just 7.9 points per game after scoring 10.3 points per game last season.
Stanford's biggest improvement from last season may be at the defensive end. The Cardinal allowed their first seven opponents to shoot just 37 percent from the field after yielding 46 percent shooting during last season's 15-15 campaign, which led to the firing of coach Johnny Dawkins.
Bennett has a reputation for getting the most out of his team defensively, but he is not satisfied by what he is seeing so far. Saint Mary's is allowing opponents to shoot 43.5 percent from the field.
“We had some good stretches tonight (defensively),” Bennett said after the UAB game. “We need more of them. We probably had 25 minutes of good defense; that's got to get closer to 37, 38 minutes, and I think that's where we were last year.”
Bennett hopes a healthy Dane Pineau will help. Pineau, a forward and a preseason all-conference selection, missed last week's San Jose State game with back spasms and played only limited minutes in the other four games because of the back issue. He is expected to see more playing time against the Cardinal.