The St. Mary’s Gaels improved to 21-4 overall and 9-1 in the West Coast Conference thanks to a 65-59 victory over the Santa Clara Broncos. With the win, St. Mary’s remains a game ahead of the University of San Francisco Dons, who defeated San Diego 61-47 to improve to 7-2 in conference. The top two teams in the conference will meet this Saturday at USF’s War Memorial Gym. Saint Mary’s won the first contest between the two teams in Moraga.
The Gaels won thanks to hot shooting from Mickey McConnell and a beastly inside performance by Rob Jones. McConnell once again led St. Mary’s in scoring with 25 points. His output included 13 key points in the final ten minutes of the first half. The Gaels trailed 17-7 at that point before McConnell led a 23-7 run to put the team on top 30-24 at the half. Rob Jones was a monster inside as he hauled in 16 rebounds to go with his 10 points. His rebounds proved key as the Gaels barely won the rebounding battle over Santa Clara.
Although St. Mary’s improved their second half lead to as many as 13 points, they had to battle to the end in putting away Santa Clara. The Broncos cut the lead to four points on a Kevin Foster three pointer with 12 seconds left, but Mickey McConnell iced the game with a pair of free throws with seven seconds left. Foster finished the game with 25 points of his own as the sophomore has developed into quite the scorer.
Elsewhere in the WCC, Gonzaga took hold of sole possession of third place with a 67-57 victory over Loyola Marymount. The Bulldogs are 6-3 in conference with a game remaining at St. Mary’s. A few pivotal wins and losses could actually net the WCC a three-way tie for first place. At this point, if USF beats St. Mary’s on Saturday and Gonzaga wins at Pepperdine, USF and SMC will be tied for first with Gonzaga a game back. With a handful of conference games remaining after this weekend, that leaves plenty of room for maneuvering.