Gonzaga-Saint Mary's (Cal) Preview
Though Gonzaga can set the school record for consecutive victories by continuing its recent dominance of rival Saint Mary's, its primary focus remains on clinching a third straight outright regular-season West Coast Conference title.
The visiting third-ranked Bulldogs look to accomplish all three with a 21st straight victory Saturday night against the Gaels.
Trying to go undefeated in the WCC for the second time in three years, Gonzaga (27-1, 15-0) clinched at least a piece of the league crown with Thursday's 86-74 win at Pacific.
''We have a share now and we have Saturday to try to win it,'' coach Mark Few said. ''That's our first goal every year and it's a big goal.''
Gonzaga, which has won 20 in a row for the third time, has claimed 10 of the league's last 12 regular-season titles outright. Second-place Saint Mary's (20-6, 12-3) won it 2011-12, one season after the schools shared the championship.
The Bulldogs have won seven straight in the series, the last six coming by an average of 19.7 points. Gonzaga shot 53.3 percent while winning the last two at Saint Mary's intimate home venue by a combined 45 points.
Winners of nine of the last 10 at home and set to retire the jersey of former Saint Mary's star and current San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills, the Gaels hope the packed house and emotions of the evening will play to their advantage.
"When Gonzaga comes in, it's already a circus," coach Randy Bennett told the school's official website. "It should be an exciting night but we can't get caught up in the excitement of the night. We've got to get caught up in playing right."
That didn't happen when Gonzaga ended Saint Mary's nine-game winning streak with a 68-47 victory Jan. 22. The Bulldogs shot 52.9 percent and went on a 22-2 run to break open a close game. The Gaels shot 36.0 percent and matched a season low for points.
''They're going to score,'' Bennett said about Gonzaga, the nation's top shooting team at 52.9 percent. ''You can limit them, but they're going to score, so you've got to put up some points.''
Saint Mary's forward Brad Waldow leads the league in shooting at 57.3 percent and is second with 19.7 points per game, but was held to 14 and committed four turnovers at Gonzaga last month. He has totaled 15 points and seven boards in the last two home meetings with the Bulldogs.
Second to Waldow in the WCC with a 54.8 field-goal percentage, Gonzaga's Kyle Wiltjer recorded the third-highest scoring game in school history with 45 points Thursday, pushing his team-best average to 17.4. He went 15 of 22 from the floor and hit seven of 10 3-pointers to highlight a 60.0 percent shooting effort for the visitors.
''It's fun to watch,'' point guard Kevin Pangos said. ''He makes it look so easy. You just want to keep on getting him the ball any chance you can.''
Wiltjer, though, had only 11 points against the Gaels last month.
Saint Mary's has dropped seven straight against ranked opponents - five of those to Gonzaga - since an overtime victory over the then-No. 24 Bulldogs in the final of the 2012 WCC tournament.