MORAGA, Calif. (AP) No. 20 Saint Mary's overcame its worst shooting night of the season to pull away and beat Portland 51-41 on Thursday night to set up its showdown with unbeaten No. 1 Gonzaga.
Gaels coach Randy Bennett praised the Pilots, whom Saint Mary's beat by 41 points in Portland last month. He also said, ''I didn't know if we could play any worse. We played tight.
''They kept the game close and it bothered us. I told them, `You don't want pressure, lose and the pressure will go away in a hurry.'''
Now the Gaels have a chance to take on Gonzaga (25-0, 13-0) on Saturday night at McKeon Pavilion. ESPN is bringing its GameDay crew to Moraga for the occasion.
''It's really cool. We also know they're probably not coming here unless we're playing the other team,'' said senior Joe Rahon, who scored 10 points. ''We're going to have a chip on our shoulders. But we're really excited. We're right where we want to be.''
Saint Mary's beat Gonzaga twice in the regular season last year and has been the Bulldogs' chief rival in the WCC the past decade.
''Any time we play Gonzaga there's a lot of hype,'' Bennett said. ''You throw in this GameDay crew, I have no idea where that takes it. We've never had it.''
Emmett Naar added 11 points for Saint Mary's, which shot 14 for 18 from the free throw line in the second half after not attempting a foul shot in the opening 20 minutes.The Gaels' 51 points matched their season low. They shot 30.6 percent after starting 3 for 16.
Portland coach Terry Porter called it ''a pride game'' after losing 74-33 in the first meeting.
''We did a good job of mixing it up (defensively), keeping them off rhythm,'' he said.
Jazz Johnson scored 10 points to lead Portland (9-16, 2-11), which scored just 19 second-half points and lost its 11th straight game.
Porter said he wishes he could be in the stands Saturday to watch the Gaels and Bulldogs.
''It's going to be a great game,'' he said. ''I'm sure Saint Mary's is very excited to compete with those guys.''
Portland still has not won in the 2017 calendar year. The Pilots' most recent victory was 73-60 over Pepperdine on Dec. 31.
Saint Mary's continues to strengthen its position for an NCAA Tournament bid.
BENNETT IS NO. 2: Bennett won his 166th WCC game, moving to second on the all-time list. The leader, with 236 conference victories, is Gonzaga's Mark Few.
The Pilots play Saturday at Loyola Marymount, which won 79-78 when the teams met last month at Portland.
With Gonzaga coming to town Saturday, the Gaels play an AP No. 1 team in Moraga for the first time since Bill Russell and San Francisco visited on Feb. 16, 1955. The Dons won 65-57 on the way to the first of consecutive NCAA championships.
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