Gaels and Zags mix it up in WCC showdown

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West Coast Conference rivals duke it out on Thursday night, as the Saint Mary's-CA Gaels come calling on the ninth-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs.

Saint Mary's is an impressive 12-3 on the season, and the team recently opened conference play with a 74-61 triumph over visiting Loyola Marymount, running its home record to a perfect 9-0 in the process. The Gaels are in the midst of a four-game win streak, and they are hoping to continue their recent string of 25-win seasons, which currently stands at five in a row which makes them one of only five programs in the country on such a run.

Gonzaga has been the class of the WCC for several years now, and the team is once again on top of the heap as it brings a 15-1 record, 2-0 in conference, into this pivotal early matchup. The Bulldogs were most recently in action last Saturday at Santa Clara, and they used the opportunity to post an 81-74 win, marking their third straight road victory and their fourth in four chances this season. GU's only loss came at home against Illinois (85-74) on Dec. 8.

Gonzaga owns a 55-27 advantage in the all-time series with Saint Mary's, but the Gaels won the last meeting, and four of the last seven overall.

These same two teams will meet once more during the regular season, getting together on SMC's home court on Valentine's Day.

Saint Mary's is a potent offensive team, averaging just shy of 80 ppg in hitting a lofty 50.1 percent of its field goal attempts, which includes a 40.5 percent effort from 3-point range. Defensively, the team allows 65.7 ppg, with foes shooting 41.4 percent overall, but nearly the same from downtown (.393). A +9.1 rebounding margin has certainly helped the team achieve the level of success it has, and there are three double-digit scorers in the fold, led by Matthew Dellavedova and his 17.4 ppg. Not just a scorer, Dellavedova also serves as the team's primary playmaker and he has amassed 100 assists already. Stephen Holt (10.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and James Walker III (10.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg) have also produced, as has Beau Levesque (9.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and Brad Waldow (9.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg). Dellavedova hit for 17 points and handed out eight assists in SMC's recent win over Loyola Marymount, which converted just 4-of-14 3-point tries and suffered a 34-26 rebounding deficit. Walker III and Levesque chipped in with 12 and 11 points, respectively.

With a record of 15-1, it's no surprise that Gonzaga controls the action at both ends of the court. The Zags come into this contest with a scoring average of 80.7 ppg, draining 51.5 percent of their total shots, which includes a 36.9 percent effort from 3-point land, while the opposition puts up 63.1 ppg in hitting just 40.0 percent of its total shots, including 33.9 percent from downtown. Gonzaga has four double-digit scorers on which to rely most nights, with Kelly Olynyk serving as the top producer with his 17.1 ppg. He is also among the team's leading rebounders with 6.6 rpg, just behind Elias Harris and his 6.8 rpg. Harris (15.1 ppg), Kevin Pangos (11.8 ppg, 3.7 apg) and Gary Bell, Jr. (10.1 ppg, 2.1 apg) round out the offensive-minded quartet. Olynyk was a man possessed in the recent win at Santa Clara, exploding for 33 points and 10 rebounds, while Harris added 14 points and Bell, Jr. tacked on a dozen for the Bulldogs, who made good on 55.3 percent of their total shots, despite missing 7-of-9 3-point attempts. GU also used a 27-17 edge in points from the foul line to pick up its second conference win of the year.