No. 22 Saint Mary's still has title hopes (Feb 23, 2018)
The Bulldogs travel to Provo to face the Cougars while Santa Clara visits the No. 22 Gaels in Moraga, Calif., on Saturday. Should the Bulldogs falter and Saint Mary's wins, both teams would be left with 16-2 records in the WCC.
Forward Calvin Hermanson said the Gaels (26-4, 15-2 WCC) aren't looking ahead to what might be and will try to control what they can.
"We are moving on right now, trying to get better, taking it one game at a time," Hermanson told sfgate.com after scoring 14 points in Thursday's win over Pepperdine. "We are worried about Santa Clara on Saturday. We still have that one to go before the conference tournament."
In their first meeting on Jan. 21, the Gaels had their way in beating the Broncos 81-57. Jock Landale recorded 19 points and 10 rebounds. Emmett Naar finished with 11 assists.
"I think we can play better than we did, but you would quickly have to add Saint Mary's makes it difficult for you to play your best," Santa Clara head coach Herb Sendek said after that loss. "They're awfully good."
Pepperdine also knows exactly how good the Gaels are. Saint Mary's beat the Waves on Thursday for its second straight win after losing back-to-back games to Gonzaga on Feb. 10 and San Francisco on Feb. 15.
The Gaels were ranked No. 11 and had won a school-record 19 straight games before being blitzed at home by Gonzaga.
Head coach Randy Bennett got even better news at tip-off when Naar, the all-time school leader in assists, stepped on the court. Naar injured his left ankle against Portland on Feb. 17 and his status was in doubt.
Bennett didn't expect Naar to play.
"He was going to warm up and see how it felt," Bennett said. "He hadn't done anything, hadn't practiced with us or anything. ... I think he helped us confidence-wise."
Naar played only 14 minutes, collecting three points and six assists. But he wasn't needed as the Gaels had a 20-point halftime lead and led by as many as 27 points in the second half.
Jordan Ford scored 18 points and had a career-high 10 rebounds. Ford and former Ole Miss/New Mexico guard Cullen Neal ran the point in place of Naar, and Bennett had to like what he saw.
"I came out and hit my first couple shots and from there it just kept rolling, so it felt pretty good," Ford said. "I put myself in the right position, and since guys hustled back on defense I was able to steal rebounds from the big guys."
While the Gaels have won two straight, Santa Clara (11-18, 8-9) saw its three-game win streak come crashing down in heartbreaking fashion against Loyola Marymount on Senior Night.
KJ Feagin scored 29 points, including the final 11 for the Broncos in a 65-64 loss. Feagin had a chance to win the game for Santa Clara, but his last-second 3-point shot was off target.
Henry Caruso, one of four seniors being honored, compiled 11 points and 14 rebounds in his final home game.
Kai Healey, another senior tied a season-high with 12 points. Despite the loss, the Broncos are a confidant bunch.
"It was a tough start to the season for us, especially in conference," Healey told the team's website, adding that the recent win streak has given the Broncos a "different sense and feeling. We feel pretty good and it's about to click. Anything can happen come conference tournament.
"We'll go out there and give it our all."