HONOLULU, Hawai'i -- The Saint Mary's men's basketball team finds itself confronted with yet another opportunity to show its stuff on the national stage as the Gaels head to Hawai'i this weekend to take part in the fifth annual Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic hosted by the University of Hawai'i.
Tournament play begins for Saint Mary's on Sunday when it faces South Carolina at 8 p.m. (PST) in a game being televised nationally on ESPNU. Action continues Monday against either Boise State or Hawai'i, and the final game of the tournament takes place Wednesday. Times and television info for Saint Mary's final two games will be determined by the outcome of each game.
Live audio of all three games will be available through the Gaels Live player on SMCGaels.com with Alex Jensen on the call. Live statistics can also be found by clicking the Schedule link on SMCGaels.com.
Saint Mary's headed across the Pacific Ocean on Friday with a bit of school history already in its pocket. A 59-44 win over American on Thursday night was SMC's ninth-straight victory to begin the season, tying the 1988-89 Gaels for the best start in program history. That team, led by All-WCC performers Dan Curry, Robert Haugen and Erick Newman, finished 25-5 and made the NCAA Tournament.
This year's incarnation is certainly doing a good job of establishing its own identity. Junior forward Brad Waldow has filled the role of leading scorer to this point, having scored in double figures in every game so far this season and leading Saint Mary's at 17.6 points per game. The big man from Shingle Springs, Calif. scored 17 points in the win over American, finishing as SMC's leading scorer for the sixth time this year.
In the backcourt, senior Stephen Holt continues to show that he's more than capable of running the show as the Gaels' primary point guard. He enjoyed another efficient game against American, scoring eight points to go with six rebounds, and ranks second on the team in scoring (13.3 ppg) and first in assists (48) through nine games.
Though Saint Mary's only put up 59 points on Thursday, continued improvement on the defensive end proved the turning point in beating the Eagles. The Gaels held American to just 41.9 percent from the floor, the exact same percentage that Saint Mary's has allowed its opponents to average through nine games. That number is even more impressive from behind the 3-point line, as opponents are shooting just 27.3 percent from beyond the arc.
Rebounding continues to also be a strength for the Gaels. A 37-19 advantage on the boards against American helped add to SMC's already impressive totals for the season, and the Gaels are now outrebounding their opponents by an average of 9.1 rebounds a game. Waldow leads the way in that category as well with 7.3 rebounds per contest.
South Carolina comes to Hawai'i with a 2-5 overall record and head coach Frank Martin's crew is looking to turn things around after dropping a 74-68 decision to USC Upstate on Thursday.
The Gamecocks are led in the scoring department by freshman Sindarius Thornwell, as the native of Lancaster, S.C. scored 19 points against USC Upstate to boost his average to 13.6 points per game. Junior Tyrone Johnson is next at 12.0 points per game.
Martin's squad has shown an ability to play with top teams this season, having suffered a narrow 66-64 defeat at Baylor earlier in the year. The Gamecocks have also played road games at Clemson and Oklahoma State, and will definitely be battle tested heading into Sunday's game.
The other half of the Diamond Head bracket also features a group of well-known teams. Tournament play begins Sunday when Iowa State squares off with George Mason, and the second game of the day pits Akron, a team that fell to the Gaels in Moraga earlier this season, against Oregon State. All four games on Sunday will be televised live on ESPNU.