SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- Faced with a red-hot team in host San Diego, the Saint Mary's men's basketball team knew nothing would come easy Saturday in a place it has always had to battle.
Luckily, this group of Gaels seems to have plenty of resolve to draw on.
A close game at half turned Saint Mary's way in the second half as the Gaels earned their ninth straight win with a 74-64 victory over the Toreros at Jenny Craig Pavilion.
Matthew Dellavedova led Saint Mary's (21-4, 10-1 West Coast Conference) with 19 points and seven assists. Brad Waldow added 18 points in the win.
San Diego (13-13, 6-5) was paced by 19 points from guard Johnny Dee.
There weren't many comfortable moments for the Gaels, who had to claw for every point.
Leading by 11 with four minutes to play, it was the senior captain Dellavedova who continued to show his mettle as not only a scorer but a leader. His layup with 3:33 left pushed the lead back to 13 at 67-54.
The Toreros continued to fight, but Saint Mary's was able to work clock and still execute to keep the lead.
Maybe the punctuation mark came with 2:27 left when, with the floor spaced and San Diego trying to match up, a lob by Levesque found Waldow for a thunderous alley-oop. The bucket made it 69-56, a lead the Gaels wouldn't relinquish.
"It's a tough place to get a win because they're good," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "They've got good players, their coaching staff works hard, they're well coached. They've been playing well and we knew that. We were ready mentally for the challenge."
Coming out of halftime with a narrow two-point lead, Saint Mary's extended the advantage thanks to a 3-point barrage.
Beau Levesque hit first from long distance, then Dellavedova followed suit to keep the run going. Finally a trey from Jorden Page made it 47-37 with 15:16 left to go.
The long distance approach proved to be the Gaels' best for the next few minutes. Another triple by Dellavedova, this one from the corner, pushed the lead back to nine with 11:36 to play.
Saint Mary's advantage hovered around the 10-point mark for the next several minutes, with San Diego doing just enough to stay in the game but the Gaels doing what they could to keep the lead."It was a good test for us. This week, with Santa Clara and San Diego, was a tough week," Bennett said. "They don't get any easier from here on out, but we got through one tough one."
Saint Mary's took the early lead, and looked to be in control, thanks to a 12-2 run to start the game. A bucket down low by Young capped the drive, and 3-pointers from Dellavedova and Jorden Page keyed the streak.
San Diego responded with a 10-3 run of its own to get back into the game. The Toreros finally took their first lead with 7:05 left in the half when a layup by Dennis Kramer made it 21-20 San Diego.
Saint Mary's returns home on Thursday to what should be a rowdy McKeon Pavilion crowd as the Gaels host Gonzaga at 8 p.m. The game is sold out, but will be televised on ESPN2. Live audio and live stats will be available on SMCGaels.com.