By Manny Nunez
It seems that every year, the Saint Mary’s Gaels are always in discussions as one of the power teams coming from a mid-major conference that could make a run and get to the Final Four as WCC counterpart Gonzaga did last season.
The tables have turned a bit this year as the Gaels have become the superior over Gonzaga, threatening to take the regular season West Coast Conference title for just the second time in nearly 20 seasons. Many have argued that the Gaels have scheduled fairly easy with only two prime wins over New Mexico State and Gonzaga. Still, standing at No. 11 in the nation and leading the WCC, the Gaels have flourished all season.
“People don’t really know how tough this conference is,” Gaels head coach Randy Bennett said. “Every game is always a grind. A lot of people don’t give a lot of credit to how much we have to prepare. Just ask BYU, who deserves a lot of credit. Our guys have done everything this year to be strong, and they have shown everything.”
— Saint Mary's Hoops (@saintmaryshoops) February 9, 2018
Saint Mary’s in many years has been known for shooting lights out from practically everywhere. This year’s team is built a little differently as they have enjoyed the size presence of Jock Landale, averaging 22 points and just under 11 rebounds per game, which is in the top 10 in the nation, as the catalyst in the paint. Instead, the Gaels have endured many of their wins on their perimeter defense as they lack height aside from Landale. They currently rank in the top 20 in points allowed per game and are in the top 10 in turnovers committed per game.
“It has been nothing short of a lot of fun this year,” Landale said. “Me and my teammates have been working very hard at what we are trying to accomplish. It is nice where if one guy is off, we hae a lot of others that can pick up the slack, especially recently. I don’t take credit for all that we have done this year, but we have been so good at picking each other up.”
A lot of the Gaels’ success has come from Landale, who is also in the running for the John Wooden award as scouts have dominated press row as many have him in the second round. While Landale can score and win rebounds, that skill may not transition to the NBA as he lacks a bit of strength. However, the Gaels do know that they can sell him much higher and can be an eventual steal in the late first round depending on how March goes.
“Landale has been great all season long,” Bennett said. “For years, he has worked on many of his traits on the court, and he has taken advantage of his fifth year of eligibility. Right now Landale has been smart at where he places himself on the court, knowing that he has to fight here and there. A lot of eyes are looking at him, but Landale knows when to phase all that out.”
Of course, all that can be taken away in their most important weekend of the season with Gonzaga Saturday night. It has been forever ago since the Gaels have done a 2-0 sweep against the team from Spokane. Saturday night gives them that kind of opportunity, putting them in the drivers seat to give the conference a major shakeup and a lot of noticing for Landale.
“Saturday will be just like any other game,” Landale said. “Our guys don’t think about those things, but we have a lot to do even after Saturday to make sure we get things right.”