No. 15 Saint Mary’s has reeled off 12 straight wins and is ranked among the nation’s top 15 teams for the first time in five seasons.
The red-hot Gaels aim to continue their winning ways Thursday when they visit Loyola Marymount in West Coast Conference play at Los Angeles.
Saint Mary’s (21-4, 10-0 WCC) regularly thrashes the Lions, having won the past 21 meetings and 32 of the last 33. The Gaels recorded a 76-62 home win over Loyola Marymount on Jan. 12.
Saint Mary’s owns a two-game lead in the WCC over Gonzaga after rallying for a 78-70 overtime victory over the then-No. 12 Bulldogs on Saturday night in Moraga, Calif.
The performance pushed the Gaels into the top 15 for the first time since February 2018. Saint Mary’s topped out at a program-high No. 11 that season.
The Gaels led for just 70 seconds of regulation during their comeback win over Gonzaga. It was the 501st career win for coach Randy Bennett and immediately became one of his favorites.
“I’m not sure I have been part of a better game,” Bennett said. “Two really good teams. Unbelievable.
“The game was such a tight game for so long. They separated early and we hung in there and hung there. Our offense started clicking and in the second half, we started taking better shots. … Just an incredible basketball game.”
Freshman guard Aidan Mahaney scored 16 of his 18 points after halftime and operated at will late in regulation. He converted five late driving layups, and Gonzaga was powerless to stop him.
“I was going to the basket early in the season, I just wasn’t making them,” Mahaney said. “I trust my work. I’m just trying to get better. Just work.”
Mahaney leads Saint Mary’s with a 15-point scoring average. He also has made 57 3-pointers, second on the team behind Alex Ducas’ 63.
Mitchell Saxen has recorded three straight double-doubles and averages 12.6 points and a team-high 8.4 rebounds. Ducas (12.4) and Logan Johnson (12.2) also average in double digits.
Mahaney matched his season high of 25 points in last month’s win over Loyola Marymount. Cam Shelton scored 18 in that contest for the Lions.
Shelton leads Loyola Marymount with a 19.3 scoring average and has tallied at least 20 points in five of the past six games. He is averaging 23.5 points during that stretch.
Despite getting 25 points from Shelton on Saturday, the Lions dropped an 87-79 decision at San Diego. It was their second straight setback following four consecutive victories.
Shelton was the hero with 27 points and the game-winning basket when Loyola Marymount stunned then-No. 6 Gonzaga 68-67 on Jan. 19 to end the Bulldogs’ 75-game winning streak at McCarthey Athletic Center.
Shelton receives help on the offensive end from Keli Leaupepe (13.8 points per game) and Jalin Anderson (10.2). Leaupepe collects a team-best 6.8 rebounds per game.
Leaupepe is already looking ahead to the WCC postseason tournament when the Lions will attempt to earn their first NCAA Tournament bid since their famous Elite Eight run in 1990.
“I want to get to March Madness. I want to make the tournament,” Leaupepe told the student newspaper. “That’s the ultimate goal.”
Leaupepe scored 15 points against San Diego and Michael Graham had 14 points on 7-of-8 shooting while grabbing a season-best 15 rebounds.
Loyola Marymount is 11-2 at home in Gerten Pavilion — the tiny arena nicknamed “Hank’s House” after program icon Hank Gathers, who collapsed on the court in 1990 and died.
–Field Level Media