No. 22 Saint Mary’s, which has won 29 games in back-to-back seasons, has opened the season with three straight home wins. But now the Gaels hit the road for the next two weeks starting with a short bus ride to San Jose State on Sunday night.
The Gaels have disposed of Saint Francis (Pa.) (85-68), New Mexico State (92-74) and Cal State Fullerton (76-57) and once again appear to be the top challenger for defending NCAA runner-up Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference. In fact, Saint Mary’s, which returns four starters from a squad that lost to Arizona 69-60 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, was picked to finish ahead of the Zags in the WCC preseason coaches poll, receiving nine out of 10 first place votes. Three Gaels were selected to the preseason all-WCC squad — senior forward Calvin Hermanson, 6-11 center Jock Landale and senior guard Emmett Naar. After Sunday night’s game with the Spartans, the Gaels will take part in the Wooden Legacy Tournament in Fullerton where they open with Harvard and will play either Washington State or Saint Joseph’s in the second round — with teams such as Georgia and San Diego State among the schools on other side of the bracket — before returning to the Bay Area to play at Cal on Dec.2.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, Facebook Live via STADIUM
ABOUT SAINT MARY’S (3-0): Hermanson leads the Gaels in scoring (20.7 points per game) and is shooting 74.1 percent from the floor, including 10-of-16 3-pointers, and had a career high four steals in Wednesday night’s win over Cal State Fullerton. Landale is second on the team in scoring (16.0) and leads the team in rebounding (7.7) while Naar also is averaging in double figures (13.7) and ranks eighth in the NCAA in assists with an average of 8.7 per game. Evan Fitzner (6.0 points), a 6-10 junior center, and sophomore guard Jordan Ford (5.3 points) round out the starting five.
ABOUT SAN JOSE STATE (1-2): The Spartans, picked to finish 10th out of 11 teams in the Mountain West preseason poll, come in off back-to-back losses to San Diego (81-64) and at Southern Utah (81-69). Ryan Welage, a 6-9 junior forward, leads the team in scoring (22.7) and scored 17 points in last year’s meeting with the Gaels. Junior guard Jaycee Hillsman, who had a career-high 18 points in the loss to Southern Utah, is second in scoring (11.7) while sophomore guard Isaiah Nichols leads the team in rebounding (8.3) and assists (3.3) while also averaging 6.7 points per game.
1. Saint Mary’s is shooting 44.8 percent from 3-point range this season and is 31-0 since the start of the 2016-17 season when shooting a better 3-point percentage than its opponent.
2. Six members of the Gaels hail from Australia, including Landale and Naar.
3. Saint Mary’s has won 25 or more games eight times in the last 10 seasons.
PREDICTION: Saint Mary’s 94, San Jose State 73