|No. 22 Saint Mary's hopes to regain swagger vs. Pepperdine|
Look past the gloom and doom of Saint Mary's losing two of their past three teams, and dropping from No. 11 all the way to No. 22, and what the Gaels have is a 25-win team that still has a good chance to play into the second week of the NCAA Tournament.
"I told our team this the other day: 'We're in the last week of the season, and all of our goals are still on the table.' That's where you want to be," head coach Randy Bennett told his Gaels via sfgate.com.
Almost every team has a hiccup, especially this season, where it seems every week a handful of high-ranked teams lose on the same night.
The Gaels hit a bump in the road by losing to Gonzaga, 78-65, in a game that wasn't close from the tip. Bennett's squad carried a hangover into their next game, a seven-point loss to San Francisco.
Saint Mary's (25-4, 14-2 WCC) got back on track Saturday in Portland with a 12-point win against the Pilots. On Thursday, the Gaels will welcome Pepperdine (4-24, 1-15 WCC) to McKeon Pavilion hoping to regain some of the swagger and confidence they had built during a school-record 19-game win streak before losing to the Bulldogs.
All-time assists leader Emmett Naar's status is uncertain against the Waves. Naar injured his left ankle in the first half against the Pilots, left the game and didn't return.
"I'm not a fortune teller," Bennett said. "I can't read this thing (perfectly), but I think he'll probably play."
If Naar can't go, Jordan Ford is expected to run the point. Whoever is playing still has All-America candidate Jock Landale in the post.
Landale is averaging 21.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. After being devoured by Gonzaga's defense, which held him to just four shots and four points, Landale bounced back to score 23 points and grab 10 boards against the Pilots.
His execution and play around the basket comes as no surprise to his teammates or opposing coaches.
"It's ridiculous how unsurprising it is," Naar told the (San Jose) Mercury News before the win at Portland. "He's been doing it all year. You look at the stat sheet and he has like 30 and 15. For most players, 'Wow, that's unbelievable.' He's done it so many times now you sort of take it for granted. It's a ridiculous level he's playing at right now."
While the Waves are playing out the string with a lame-duck coach, an upset of the Gaels would be gratifying. And as this season has proven, upsets seem to be the norm, which the Gaels learned first-hand against the Dons.
Pepperdine, which announced on Feb. 13 that head coach Marty Wilson will not return for an eighth season, lost two close games last week.
BYU dropped the Waves in overtime on Feb. 15.
Against No. 6 Gonzaga on Saturday, the Waves trailed 66-64 before the Bulldogs went on an 11-0 run to put the game out of reach.
"Our focus coming into this game was to stay within striking distance," leading scorer Colbey Ross told the Pepperdine Graphic. "Gonzaga is one of the top teams in the country, but we wanted to show our game and not back down to the challenge."
Ross, a freshman guard, tallied a game-high 21 points and recorded six assists. Fellow freshman guard Trae Berhow had nine points and seven rebounds.
In the end, Gonzaga just had too much talent and made plays when it counted.
"We were struggling to stop them and bouts where we were struggling to score ourselves," Gonzaga coach Mark Few told reporters as he credited the Waves for not giving up. "But in the end, we were really solid and made plays at both ends."