Santa Clara-Saint Mary’s (Cal) Preview

Despite losing its last game, Saint Mary’s remains in control of

the West Coast Conference. A meeting with Santa Clara seems highly

unlikely to hurt its chances of winning it.

The 16th-ranked Gaels will try to bounce back Saturday night

when they host last-place Santa Clara, which has lost a

school-record 12 straight.

Saint Mary’s (22-3, 11-1) could have given itself a big edge in

the West Coast race Thursday, but instead it struggled to a 73-59

loss to second-place Gonzaga. The defeat snapped a 12-game winning

streak and dropped the Gaels’ lead to 1 1/2 games over the

Bulldogs.

The game was tight in the first half, but the Gaels came out

cold following the break. They shot 28.6 percent in the second half

and were outrebounded 40-26 for the game.

Rob Jones and Stephen Holt combined for just eight points after

accounting for 51 during the team’s previous game against San

Diego. Holt went scoreless after averaging 13.6 points during the

win streak.

Despite the problems on offense, Saint Mary’s was just as

frustrated by its defensive effort.

“For the first 25 minutes, our defense was like good to OK,”

said Matthew Dellavedova, who had a team-high 20 points. “But we

broke down and they were getting a lot of penetration and hitting a

lot of open 3s.”

While Gonzaga was 7 of 15 from beyond the arc, Saint Mary’s went

5 of 21. Dellavedova was 2 for 7.

Dellavedova, who averages a team-high 15.7 points, scored 26 in

a 93-77 win over Santa Clara (8-16, 0-11) on Jan. 21.

For Broncos coach Kerry Keating, it’s clear where his team’s

focus should be Saturday if they hope to upset the WCC leader, whom

Santa Clara has lost six straight against.

“I told someone that everybody wants to talk about, ‘(The Gaels)

lost Omar (Samhan) and then they lost Mickey (McConnell).’ Well,

with all due respect to those guys, they’re not the most important

player on this team,” Keating said, referencing Saint Mary’s top

scorers the previous two seasons.

“Dellavedova was on those two teams, too. He’s the most

important player in that program from Day 1, and he’s proven

that.”

Keating’s team matched a school record for consecutive losses

with an 85-69 defeat at San Francisco on Thursday. The slide is the

longest during one season. Santa Clara also lost 12 in a row Feb.

27, 1943-Jan. 15, 1946.

The Broncos’ latest defeat was another tough one. After losing

by five at San Diego last Saturday after nearly rallying from 19

points down, they failed to protect an early 11-point lead against

the Dons.

San Francisco shot 66.7 percent in the second half en route to

53 points.

Santa Clara went 14 of 23 beyond the arc. Raymond Cowels III

scored 21 points and Denzel Johnson added 20, but the team was held

to nine points during an 11 1/2-minute stretch of the second

half.

Johnson has started the last five games in place of Kevin

Foster, the conference’s leading scorer at 17.8 points per game

despite missing the last six for a rules violation. Johnson has

taken advantage of the additional playing time, averaging 19.3

points in the last three games.

Starting guard Evan Roquemore came off the bench in Thursday’s

loss after suffering a foot sprain, but he finished with 14

points.

The Broncos are 0-9 on the road this season. They have lost four

straight on the road to Saint Mary’s.