GAME NOTES: The Saint Mary's Gaels will finish off the season with two home games, beginning with tonight's West Coast Conference clash against the Portland Pilots.
Saint Mary's already has 20 wins to its credit, including a solid 10-6 mark in league play, which has the Gaels in fourth place in the WCC standings. A 76-54 win over Santa Clara the last time out ended a two-game slide for the Gaels, who face a stern test in Saturday's regular-season finale against league- leading Gonzaga.
On the other side, Portland is currently enduring its own two-game skid. The Pilots' have been, at best, an inconsistent team this season with an overall mark just above the .500 level (15-13). They are playing the third leg of a four-game road trip here, with the final contest coming in the regular-season finale against Pacific on Saturday.
The rivalry between these two teams has been owned by Saint Mary's of late, as the Gaels have won six straight meetings, including a 72-63 decision earlier this season. They lead the all-time series, 53-29.
Ryan Nicholas scored 17 points to lead four players in double figures for Portland, but the Pilots' weak shooting doomed them to an 89-72 loss to BYU in their last contest. Portland only connected on 39.4 percent of its total shots, while scoring just 18 points in the paint.
Clearly the Pilots have struggled to find consistency on offense, as leading scorer Kevin Bailey (16.4 ppg) has been sidelined the last four games with a strained calf. He is listed as questionable for this contest. In Bailey's place, Nicholas (13 ppg, 8.9 rpg) and Thomas van der Mars (12.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg) serve as the go-to scorers. Nicholas is a talented forward, who leads the conference on the glass, and who can step out and hit shots from the perimeter. Alec Wintering (7.7 ppg, 4.5 apg) is only shooting 34.4 percent from the floor, but he is one of the better playmakers in the WCC, ranking fifth in assists.
Paced by a career-high 35 points from Stephen Holt, Saint Mary's easily rolled over Santa Clara in its most recent outing. Holt connected on an astounding 14-of-17 shots from the floor to help the Gaels to a 59.2 percent overall shooting effort. Brad Waldow tacked on 12 points and nine rebounds in support of the impressive effort from Holt.
Waldow (16 ppg, 7.9 rpg) and Holt (14.8 pg, 4.3 apg) do almost all of the heavy lifting for the Gaels, although James Walker III (9.9 ppg), Beau Levesque (9.8 ppg) and Kerry Carter (9.6 ppg) also play key roles. Waldow is among the top-five players in the conference in rebounding, field goal percentage (.574) and blocks (1.5 bpg). In fact, he is the only player in the WCC to hold that distinction. Holt clearly has the skills to take over as a scorer, but he is also a talented passer. The Gaels don't have much depth off the bench, however, and are just seventh in the conference in team scoring (73.3 ppg).
McKeon Pavilion has been a dangerous place for visiting teams this season, with Saint Mary's logging a 14-2 mark on its home floor. With Holt and Waldow clearly clicking on all cylinders, the Gaels should earn a win to send them into the final against Gonzaga with some momentum.
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