MORAGA, Calif. (AP) — The stars that faded against Gonzaga two nights earlier shined bright again for Saint Mary's when it mattered most. While that 12-game winning streak is gone, the Gaels' dominance in the West Coast Conference still seems alive and well.
Same goes for the program's leaders, too.
Rob Jones had 25 points and 12 rebounds, Matthew Dellavedova added 16 points and 10 assists, and No. 16 Saint Mary's rebounded from a loss at Gonzaga with an 82-67 victory over cross-bay rival Santa Clara on Saturday night.
"Our guys who needed to step up, our leaders, did. And that was the key," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said.
Stephen Holt scored 11 points to help Saint Mary's (23-3, 12-1) overcome a slow start and pull away in the second half. The Gaels improved to 16-0 at home with only two games left at McKeon Pavilion this season.
"I think it just proves how tough a team we are. You can't be proven this tough if you face adversity," said Jones, who was held to eight points and seven rebounds against the Bulldogs on Thursday in a rare off night. "So after last game, I prepared to prove to myself and everyone else that I'm still here with this team."
Consider it done.
Denzel Johnson scored 17 points and Niyi Harrison added 12 points for the Broncos (8-17, 0-12), swept for the third straight year in the series and still winless in conference play this season.
Santa Clara junior guard Kevin Foster, the WCC's leading scorer at 17.8 points a game, was held out for the seventh straight game. He has not played since being arrested on suspicion of drunken driving Jan. 21.
"We can only use the bullets we have, and the ones we got are getting better," Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating said. "For us, this whole season's been hard. We haven't won a road game all year. We dealt with a lot of adversity in the very beginning, and certainly in the last three weeks it's changed and been even more adverse."
The first setback in weeks did little to quiet the Saint Mary's faithful.
Patrons packed in the aisles and up to the rafters at standing-room-only McKeon Pavilion, where the capacity is 3,500. With the 73-59 loss to the Bulldogs two nights earlier still fresh, the program's rival tried to make it sting even worse.
Harrison provided an immediate burst, finishing with a three-point play over Jordan Page that gave the Broncos a 19-16 lead. Santa Clara withstood every momentum swing — keeping most brief — and never let the Gaels pull away.
At least for a half.
The Gaels galloped past the Broncos with a strong finish to the half and a stronger start to the second, bringing fans roaring to their feet after Brad Waldow's put-back tip at the buzzer. Two big plays in the first minutes following the break sent Santa Clara home for good.
Holt converted a difficult layup while getting draped by Cowels and Rob Jones made a short jumper as Cowels fouled him moments later. Both missed the free throw that followed.
The 22-7 run between the first and second half put Saint Mary's ahead 54-40, and all the Gaels had to do was hold on against an inferior opponent the rest of the way — something they've done plenty of this year.
Santa Clara chopped the deficit to three with 8:51 remaining with some surprisingly streaking shooting before Saint Mary's took control again. Dellavedova had a layup and also fed Waldow for a dunk that helped put the Gaels back in front 71-61.
The victory kept Saint Mary's in prime position to end Gonzaga's streak of 11 straight seasons with at least a share of the WCC crown — and likely the high NCAA tournament seeding that comes with it.
But as last season showed, one loss can change plans quickly.
The Bulldogs beat Saint Mary's in the last year's regular-season finale to split the title and again won in the league championship game. The two losses kept the Gaels out of the NCAA tournament.
Saint Mary's is one of eight teams in Division I — along with WCC rival Gonzaga and newcomer BYU — to win at least 25 games in each of the last four seasons. The ranking this week in the AP poll is the highest for Saint Mary's since the 1958-59 season.
"We're not really focused on that," Dellavedova said. "But one game can turn around a season."
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