MORAGA, Calif. -- Ask any coach in America which game on the schedule is the most important and you'll always get the same answer.
It's the next one, of course.
As much as it sounds like coachspeak, there is no better way to describe this week's schedule for the 20th-ranked Saint Mary's men's basketball team. Each of the next two games for the Gaels could easily be called the most important of the season.
SMC takes to the road for a pair of crucial West Coast Conference games against two of the top four teams in the league. Thursday, the Gaels face fourth-place Loyola Marymount in a 7 p.m. tipoff at Gersten Pavilion. Two nights later, Saint Mary's travels to Provo, Utah to face league newcomer BYU in a 6 p.m. (PT) start at the Marriott Center.
Thursday's game at LMU will not be televised, but will feature a LMU-focused live video stream on LMULions.com. The incomparable Mike Bouve will describe the game for SMC fans through Gaels Live on SMCGaels.com. Saturday's game will be televised live on ESPNU with Dave Flemming and Sean Farnham calling the action and Phil Pollicino producing from the truck.
Saint Mary's is currently enjoying the best start to a season in the 104-year history of it's men's basketball program. The Gaels are 19-2 overall and a perfect 8-0 in WCC play. The team is ranked 20th in the latest ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll and 21st by the Associated Press.
The team's overall record is one game better than the 18-2 start of both the 2008-09 and 1988-89 seasons. The league start equals the school-record 11-0 mark of the 1958-59 team that advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight. SMC's current 9-game win streak is the fourth-longest in school history.
With about half of the league schedule behind them, the Gaels are a game-and-a-half ahead of second-place Gonzaga in the WCC standings, two ahead of BYU and two-and-a-half ahead of LMU.
SMC leads the WCC in five statistical categories and is among the top two or three in almost every area. The Gaels are the league leaders in scoring defense, scoring margin, rebound defense, rebound margin and assist/turnover ratio.
Individually, junior Matthew Dellavedova is the WCC's leader in assists, assist/turnover ratio and minutes played. Senior Rob Jones is the league rebounding leader. Sophomore Stephen Holt remains the WCC leader in steals, while Jorden Page is the top free throw shooter.
In addition to assists, Dellavedova is the team's scoring leader with an average of 15.8 points per game. His 470 career assists ranks fourth on the school's all-time list and is just six shy of 2011 WCC Player of the Year Mickey McConnell. His is also just six 3-point field goals from catching Frank Allocco for second on the career list in that category.
Jones, a San Francisco native, averages 10.7 rebounds per game and ranks third in the nation with 13 double-doubles scoring-rebounding. He averages 14.5 points and 2.6 assists per game.
Holt, who leads the league in steals for the second-straight year with a 2.0 per game average, is the only other Gael scoring in double-figures with a 10.4 scoring average. He is shooting a warm .661 from the field in league play.
Saint Mary's leads the all-time series and has come out victorious in the last 10 meetings between the two schools. During Randy Bennett's tenure in Moraga, the Gaels own a 16-5 mark over the Lions. SMC hasn't lost at Gersten Pavilion since 2006.
LMU enters Thursday's game with a 12-8 overall record and a 5-2 mark in league play. The Lions have won four of their last five games, including an impressive 82-68 win at BYU last week. On Monday, LMU took a 74-62 victory at Santa Clara.
Following this week's road games, the Gaels return home for a Feb. 2 game against the University of San Diego at McKeon Pavilion. A limited number of general admission tickets are on sale through the SMC Athletic Ticket Office.