Saint Mary’s-Vanderbilt Preview

After receiving a scare, Saint Mary’s survived its first game as

a ranked team in over two years.

The team won’t get much of a chance to exhale over the next

seven days.

The 22nd-ranked Gaels look to win their 12th straight Saturday

when they visit Vanderbilt, which has won 20 consecutive

non-conference home games.

Saint Mary’s (17-2) is opening arguably the toughest stretch in

its schedule Saturday as it begins a three-game road trip that also

includes visits to Gonzaga and Portland, which are its primary

rivals in the West Coast Conference.

“If you get a win in these games, it’s a big boost,” coach Randy

Bennett said. “That’s how we’re going to approach it and go from

there.”

The Gaels begin the trip after they defeated San Diego 67-56 on

Wednesday. Rob Jones hit two 3-pointers and had two other baskets

in a game-breaking 19-3 run in the second half against his former

team.

Jones finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds for his fifth

double-double of the season. He’s averaging 13.9 points and 7.4

rebounds.

The Gales had won their previous 10 games by an average of 21.0

points, moving them into the AP Top 25 for the first time since

they were also No. 22 on Jan. 26, 2009.

“We haven’t been challenged like that in a while,” Jones said.

“It was good to work and sweat that win out. I’m glad we’re going

on the road with a win and continued our success.”

Saint Mary’s is one of the nation’s highest scoring teams,

averaging 83.2 points. However, the Gaels haven’t fared well

against elite competition, suffering their only losses to ranked

Mountain West teams San Diego State and BYU.

Vanderbilt (13-4) will pose a similar challenge as it tries to

re-enter the Top 25 after falling out earlier this month. The

Commodores are coming off an 84-74 win over Mississippi on

Wednesday, improving to 10-0 at home after John Jenkins scored 20

points.

The Commodores made 8 of their 16 attempts beyond the arc, and

they are averaging 83.2 points at home while shooting 41.2 percent

from 3-point range.

Five players scored in double figures in their last victory,

including Lance Goulbourne, who finished with 14 points and a

career-high 16 rebounds for his first career double-double. He’s

grabbed at least 10 rebounds in three of his last four games.

His effort was especially appreciated with the injury issues

Vanderbilt has had to deal with. Starting forward Andre Walker

missed his fifth straight game with a sprained ankle and is

unlikely to play Saturday.

Meanwhile, coach Kevin Stallings also has to be concerned with

starting center Festus Ezeli, who finished with 16 points in 26

minutes despite aggravating a lingering knee injury. Forward Steve

Tchiengang is dealing with a sprained ankle as well and hasn’t

scored over his last three games.

“I just can’t say enough about all those kids,” Stallings said.

“They played their hearts out. … It’s part of it. You have to

find a way to overcome in.”

The Commodores haven’t lost at home to a non-conference opponent

since a 84-55 defeat to Illinois-Chicago in 2008.

Vanderbilt defeated Saint Mary’s 72-70 last season in the first

meeting between the schools.