Another strong start has Saint Mary's back in the Top 25 for the first time in nearly two years. It hopes this stay in the rankings is a little longer than the previous one.
Before a daunting stretch of road games, the 22nd-ranked Gaels will try to beat struggling San Diego in a West Coast Conference matchup Wednesday night at McKeon Pavilion.Saint Mary's (16-2, 4-0) topped last season's 15-2 start and extended its win streak to 10 with an 84-59 rout of visiting Santa Clara on Saturday night.The Gaels won a school-record 15 straight in 2008-09 during their best start in program history at 18-1. In 2007-08, they won 17 of their first 19.This strong start garnered the program its first ranking since an appearance at No. 22 on Jan. 26, 2009. That stay, however, ended a week later during a stretch of four losses in five games."Being ranked in the Top 25 really demonstrates the consistency of the program," said coach Randy Bennett, whose team has won 28 games in each of the past two seasons.Saint Mary's returned three starters after reaching the NCAA regional semifinals for the second time in school history. One of those players, Mickey McConnell, is averaging 19.7 points and 10.0 assists over the past six games.The Gaels are averaging 86.5 points over that span -- 14.0 more than in their previous six games -- and shooting 53.8 percent. They've also gotten help from former San Diego forward Rob Jones, who is contributing 13.7 points and a team-best 7.1 rebounds per contest this season.McConnell led six players in double figures Saturday with 18 points and he had his fifth career double-digit assist performance -- and third in six games -- with 13.The senior guard, though, wants his team to keep striving to improve."What we need to do the whole season is just keep getting better. We can't just be satisfied with a good win," McConnell said.The Gaels would probably like to be at their best during trips to Vanderbilt on Saturday and conference rivals Gonzaga on Jan. 27 and Portland on Jan. 29. A visit from the Toreros (3-15, 0-4) could give them a chance to prepare for those games.While Saint Mary's is one of the nation's highest-scoring teams with 84.1 points per game, San Diego is averaging a conference-low 61.0 and hasn't topped 58 during a five-game losing streak. The Toreros shot 36.4 percent in a 65-55 home loss to San Francisco on Saturday night.Devin Ginty was the only player to score in double figures with 14 points off the bench, and leading scorer Darian Norris had nine. Norris, a junior guard, is the only San Diego player averaging more than 9.4 points with 11.0.Sophomore forward Chris Manresa was one of two players to score in double figures in last season's 71-56 defeat at Saint Mary's, and only one Toreros player had more than eight points in a 61-49 home loss Feb. 18 -- their fourth in a row to the Gaels.McConnell went 5 for 6 from 3-point range over those games while scoring a combined 27 points.Saint Mary's has won three straight at home over San Diego.