MORAGA, Calif. -- The Saint Mary's men's basketball team heads north this week, with a date at No. 8-ranked Gonzaga waiting to test just how far along the Gaels are in their quest for a third-straight West Coast Conference title.
Thursday's 8 p.m. contest will be televised on ESPN2, and live audio of the game will be available on SMCGaels.com.
Saint Mary's (12-3, 1-0 WCC) enters the game on a four-game win streak, having beaten Loyola Marymount 74-61 on Saturday in the Gaels' WCC opener.
Gonzaga (15-1, 2-0) enters on a six-game win streak of its own, which means that an always-electric contest between two of the WCC's best teams should this time feature two squads playing some of their best basketball this season.
"It's all about playing Saint Mary's basketball. We've got a couple days to prepare for one of the biggest games of the year," said SMC guard Stephen Holt. "We know them pretty well and they know us pretty well. It's going to be a battle and it's going to be a hostile environment."
Saint Mary's got conference play started with a win, beating the Lions on Saturday thanks to contribuions from up and down the roster.
Leading the way once again was All-America candidate Matthew Dellavedova, as the senior from Maryborough, Australia scored 17 points and also added eight assists and five rebounds. Through 15 games, Dellavedova is averaging 17.4 points and 6.7 assists per game.
Dellavedova is one player in a group of guards that has played extremely well of late. Stephen Holt, Jorden Page, James Walker III have all taken turns in the starting lineup, and with Jordan Giusti also adding valuable contributions off the bench, the Gaels are well positioned no matter who's manning the backcourt.
"There's four guards there that are all starters. Unless we start with a four-guard lineup, somebody's coming off (the bench)," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "We decided to bring James off because he'd shown he can do it either way. He's good as a starter, he's good coming off. He's playing very well."
Also continuing his steady play of late is Beau Levesque, who scored 11 points against LMU and finished in double figures for the seventh time in his last eight games. Levesque has done all that while coming off the bench, providing a valuable spark for the Gaels.
"He's a good scorer, but his role is to be a good defender and good rebounder at that four spot," Bennett said. "He's done that, and he's scored. He and Mitch (Young) have taken ownership of that spot and done a good job with it."
Gonzaga has played equally well lately, beginning WCC play with road wins at Pepperdine and Santa Clara.
Center Kelly Olynyk was the catalyst for the Bulldogs in the win over Santa Clara, scoring 33 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Elias Harris chipped in with 14 points and Gary Bell Jr. added 12 to round out the Bulldogs in double figures.
Through 16 games, Olynyk is leading Gonzaga in scoring at 17.1 points per game. Harris is next at 15.1 per game, Kevin Pangos averages 11.8 and Bell adds 10.1.
One battle sure to be waged will be on the boards, where Saint Mary's and Gonzaga rank 1-2 in the WCC in rebounding margin. The Gaels have outrebounded opponents by an average of 9.1 a game, while the Bulldogs are next at 8.6.
As always, the Bulldogs have been tough at home. They are 7-1 in McCarthey Athletic Center this season, with the lone loss coming to nationally ranked Illinois in early December. Since Gonzaga's facility opened in 2004, the Bulldogs are 112-8 in their own building.
"It's a challenge. As a player or a coach, you're a competitor and you look forward to tough challenges. This is a tough challenge," Bennett said. "We all look forward to it that way. You try to bring your best when your best is needed and that's what we need going into these games."
The Gaels return home to McKeon Pavilion Saturday for an 8 p.m. game (note gametime change) against longtime Bay Area rival San Francisco. A limited number of tickets are available by visiting the tickets link on SMCGaels.com or by calling the SMC Athletic Ticket Office at (925) 631-GoTx (4689).