Saint Mary’s goes for 17th straight against San Francisco

A quiet confidence permeates the Saint Mary’s program these days.

After years of being in the West Coast Conference shadow cast by Gonzaga, the No. 13 Gaels have stepped into the sun, and the immediate future is as bright as it’s ever been for Randy Bennett’s squad.

The Gaels (21-2, 10-0 WCC) have won a school-record 16 straight games, and that includes a three-point victory at Gonzaga on Jan. 18. The Gaels go for 17 in a row against San Francisco on Thursday night in Moraga, Calif.

While the streak is a great accomplishment and means the Gaels won’t be sneaking up on anyone come NCAA Tournament time, winning 17 straight indicates only that the team has been consistent and maybe a little lucky.

“There’s a bigger challenge, and that’s trying to put yourself in a position to win the league, and trying to get to the NCAA Tournament,” Bennett told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I think that’s where our guys’ potential and focus is, and that’s where it needs to be.”

That’s good advice from Bennett, because if the Gaels overlook the Dons, San Francisco is more than capable of pulling of an upset.

The Dons (12-11, 4-6) lost to Gonzaga 82-73 on Saturday, but they gave the Bulldogs all they could handle. San Francisco was down by 19 in the first half and rallied to take the lead in the second half before eventually losing.

That was enough to impress Gonzaga coach Mark Few, who said, the Dons “have the ability to make shots … and that’s an offense with a lot of options and (coach) Kyle (Smith) does a great job teaching it and those guys do a great job of absorbing it,” Few said.

Frankie Ferrari and Jordan Ratinho scored 15 points apiece for the Dons against Gonzaga.

“We played together and our effort was good,” Ferrari told SFGate.com., “but to come up short still feels the same.”

The Gaels haven’t come up short since losing to Georgia by two in overtime on Nov. 26. Their only other loss was to Washington State on Nov. 24.

During the streak, Jock Landale has emerged as an All-America candidate. He has recorded 13 double-doubles since the Georgia loss. For the season, he is averaging 22.1 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.

In Saint Mary’s win against Portland, Landale had his worst statistical game of the season finishing with six points, 11 boards and five turnovers. The Pilots game plan was simple: Do not let Landale beat us.

“He kept his composure and didn’t worry about anything else other than what’s going to help the team win — which is hard to do,” Bennett said.

Portland’s strategy let the Gaels put on a display of team basketball with precise ball movement that led to open looks. The Gaels recorded 15 assists and shot 52.3 percent from beyond the arc.

“All of our guys were ready to play and we were knocking down shots,” Calvin Hermanson said. “We just tried to move the ball and find the most open man. We don’t try to get good shots, we try to get great shots.”

Freshman Jordan Ford led the Gaels with 20 points. Hermanson had 16 as the Gaels extended their streak.

“It’s cool,” Hermanson said of winning 16 straight. “That’s not one of the goals we put up on the board at the beginning of the season. We’re trying to win a league title. And that’s what we’re focused on right now.”