Saint Mary's-CA (19-8) at San Francisco (16-10)

02/20/2014 7:28 AM

02/20/2014 7:38 AM

GAME NOTES: A pair of teams tied for third place in the West Coast Conference standings get together at War Memorial Gym tonight, as the Saint Mary's Gaels clash with the San Francisco Dons.

One of the most successful programs of the last decade, the Gaels have had their struggles this season, beginning with their trip to Hawaii in late December which resulted in three straight defeats. The team has had more good times than bad, but SMC also saw a three-game win streak come to an end on Saturday as it bowed to BYU at home, 60-57. With the defeat, the program dipped to 9-5 in conference, which is where the Dons are at the moment as well.

San Francisco has certainly taken advantage of the weaker teams in the WCC, but the squad has not performed very well against the top-notch opponents such as Gonzaga and BYU. Since bowing to the aforementioned Cougars on back on Feb. 8, the Dons managed to turn around and grab a 69-63 league win against Santa Clara on the road last Saturday.

The Gaels won the first meeting of the season last month at home by a score of 88-73 as all five starters scored in double figures, led by Stephen Holt with 21 points. However, even with the victory and 17 straight overall against the Dons, SMC still trails in the all-time series by a 103-73 margin.

Ahead by 10 at the break on their own floor versus BYU, the Gaels let a huge opportunity slip away last Saturday as they converted a total of just eight field goals in the second half. Brad Waldow tried to give the hosts a fighting chance with his 17 points and 13 rebounds, but the only other double-digit scorer for the Gaels was Stephen Holt who tallied 13 points on 3-of-7 shooting behind the 3-point line. The rest of the SMC players combined to make only 1- of-12 out on the perimeter.

In conference play, Waldow is averaging 15.8 ppg and 8.2 rpg, both of which are team highs, yet there are still stretches in games where he doesn't seem to be playing at his best for a squad that is outscoring WCC foes by a mere 3.4 ppg. Holt checks in with another 15.3 ppg, converting 41.7 percent of his 3-point tries and handing out 54 assists, the latter being better than one- third the team's total through 14 games.

Kruize Pinkins stepped up with 26 points, shooting 8-of-11 from the floor and 10-of-11 at the free-throw line for the Dons as they slipped by Santa Clara on the road last weekend. Also landing in double figures were Mark Tollefsen and Cole Dickerson with 13 points apiece, the latter clearing an impressive 14 rebounds overall, as the team survived just 37.5 percent shooting from the field to come away with the win.

Except for a pair of games in which Tim Derksen subbed for Pinkins, the Dons have kept the same starting lineup throughout conference play to this point. Dickerson leads the group in scoring with 14.9 ppg and is also tied for first on the glass with 7.1 rpg, but that doesn't excuse the fact that he is shooting a dismal 46.3 percent at the free-throw line. Avry Holmes (14.0 ppg), a 47.3 percent shooter beyond the arc is picking up the slack at the charity stripe (.877), but the team as a whole still comes in at just 67.3 percent.

Needing to keep pace with the top teams in the WCC, the Gaels cannot afford to give up potential wins at this point in the campaign. and taking down USF would certainly help in building momentum.

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