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St. Mary's vs. San Francisco: Gaels, Dons Battle For Share Of First Place

The St. Mary’s Gaels cross the bay to face the University of San Francisco Dons tonight at 7:30 p.m. The Dons are a game back of the Gaels and a win would create a tie for first. After a miserable non-conference schedule San Francisco has gone on a tear, currently sitting at 7-2 in the West Coast Conference with a home win over Gonzaga on its resume. A St. Mary’s victory would move them two games up on the Dons and at least two games up on Gonzaga. The Gaels are looking to become the first team other than Gonzaga to win the WCC regular season title in over a decade.

GAME NOTES: The San Francisco Dons try to inch their way closer to the top of the West Coast Conference standings as they welcome the Saint Mary’s-CA Gaels to War Memorial Gym tonight.

After playing somewhat uninspired ball during the non-conference schedule, the Dons have picked up the pace now and have won seven of nine WCC matchups, including a 61-47 romp over San Diego two nights ago at home. With the season sweep of the Toreros, USF has now won back-to-back games and six of the last seven overall as it tries to close the gap between itself and the Gaels who are all alone atop the standings at 9-1.

As for Saint Mary’s, it has just the one league setback to University of Portland a few weeks ago as the lone blemish on its WCC slate. On Thursday night, the team held off Santa Clara on the road in a 65-59 final, marking its third straight win and the fourth in five outings.

SMC won the first meeting of the season between these two teams last month by a 71-57 final at home as Mickey McConnell tallied 19 points and Rob Jones logged a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards for the hosts. USF was paced by Michael Williams with 17 points, but Angelo Caloiaro managed just two points in 34 minutes of action. Despite the loss, the Dons still hold a commanding 103-66 advantage in the all-time series.

Rob Jones shot just 3-of-10 from the field two nights ago against Santa Clara, finishing with 10 points, but he still played huge in the paint for the Gaels as he ripped down a game-high 16 rebounds in the six-point road victory. Mickey McConnell was much more efficient on offense for Saint Mary’s as he tallied 25 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the floor and a perfect 6-of-6 at the free-throw line. Mitchell Young pitched in with 10 points and seven rebounds off the bench as well for a team that got by with only 37.5 percent shooting from the field. McConnell, the leading scorer in four of the last five games for the Gaels, is responsible for 16.7 ppg to pace the group, having made good on not only 51.9 percent of his field goal attempts but also 48.2 percent behind the three-point line over 25 starts. But so much more than a scorer, McConnell recognizes when he doesn’t have a clear shot and is more than willing to dish the ball to a teammate, resulting in 6.2 apg. Jones (14.1 ppg) handles the action on the inside with nearly eight rebounds per contest, and that means the Gaels own a rebounding advantage of almost six per game.

More than anything else, it was the defense by the Dons that sent San Diego reeling to yet another defeat on Thursday night, limiting the Toreros to a mere 32.7 percent shooting from the floor and 2-of-12 behind the 3-point line, not to mention forcing the visitors into 18 turnovers. Perris Blackwell led the way on offense with 12 points, adding a team-best 10 rebounds to his stat line, while Michael Williams and Moustapha Diarra both delivered 10 points, the latter getting it done in just 16 minutes of action.

Over the last six games, the Dons have had a different leading scorer five times, the only one to repeat was Rashad Green who is currently second on the unit with 11.4 ppg. At the top of the list is Williams with his 14.9 ppg, thanks in large part to his 44.5 percent accuracy from three-point range which is almost as strong as his overall field goal percentage (.462). Blackwell checks in with 11.0 ppg and is first on the glass with close to seven and a half rebounds per outing, but his mere 56.2 percent shooting at the free-throw line brings the entire team down to 66.3 percent.

If the Dons are going to make a serious run at SMC tonight they’ll need to slow down McConnell and force him into difficult situations far from the basket. Otherwise, the standout guard will turn in another damaging performance and lead the Gaels closer to the WCC’s regular-season title.

GAME NOTES: The San Francisco Dons try to inch their way closer to the top of the West Coast Conference standings as they welcome the Saint Mary’s-CA Gaels to War Memorial Gym tonight.

FACTS & STATS: Site: War Memorial Gymnasium (4,800) — San Francisco, California. Television: CSN-CA. Home Record: SMC 13-0, USF 10-2. Away Record: SMC 5-3, USF 3-7. Neutral Record: SMC 3-1, USF 0-2. Conference Record: SMC 9-1, USF 7-2. Series Record: San Francisco leads, 103-66.

Saturday, Feb. 12, 10:30 p.m. (ET).

Saint Mary’s-CA 74, San Francisco 65