MORAGA, Calif. (AP) — Having the second-stingiest scoring defense in the country has turned out to be quite a luxury for No. 20 Saint Mary's this season.
With the Gaels unable to find a consistent flow to their offense against Santa Clara, that luxury turned out to be the difference.
Jock Landale scored 17 points and Saint Mary's beat Santa Clara 70-56 on Saturday night in the West Coast Conference regular season finale for both teams.
"Our offensive numbers are good but we're a little grindy," Gaels coach Randy Bennett said. "We're grindy because of our defense. Our defense has made us consistent. Where we've been good is we've really done a good job defending the 3."
Saint Mary's led by 20 in the second half despite coming out of halftime missing 6 of 7 shots with two turnovers.
Landale, as he has much of the season, got the Gaels back on track with a short hook over Henrik Jadersten to start a 10-0 run. Landale later scored on consecutive trips down the floor to push Saint Mary's lead to 66-47.
"That's where our defense comes into it," Emmett Naar said. "If we're not scoring, we have to stop them. We did that. That was pretty big."
Naar and Calvin Hermanson scored 13 points apiece and Dane Pineau added 10 points to help the Gaels (26-3, 15-3 WCC) complete a season sweep of the Broncos.
Saint Mary's will get a week off before playing in the WCC Tournament as the No. 2 seed in Las Vegas next week.
The Gaels will go in at full strength after a brief scare midway through the second half. Joe Rahon, the team's emotional leader and workhorse in the backcourt, limped off the court with a bruised right knee and was taken into a tunnel to be examined. He returned to the court a few minutes later wearing tape below the knee.
One of two seniors on the Gaels, Rahon then later got his entire knee wrapped.
"I think he's all right," Bennett said. "He got hit on it."
Jared Brownridge and Matt Hauser scored 15 points apiece for Santa Clara. The Broncos (16-15, 10-8) lost for only the second time in the last five games.
The Gaels led nearly the entire way.
Saint Mary's came out strong from the perimeter, making 5 of 7 shots beyond the arc in the first half. Naar had two of the 3s and was one of six Gaels players to score as part of an 11-2 run that pushed their lead to 41-29 at halftime.
Santa Clara: Another tough night for the Broncos, who couldn't get much going despite Saint Mary's going through a pair of lulls on offense. Brownridge scored nine of his team's first 11 points, a pattern that played out much of the game. Jadersten gave Santa Clara an early lift with two 3s but picked up three fouls over a span of 1:41 minutes during the first half.
Saint Mary's: With four straight wins the Gaels have regained some of the momentum they lost after falling to No. 1 Gonzaga on Feb. 11 for the second time this season. A third showdown between the conference's two best teams appears likely.
The Gaels guaranteed themselves of finishing with a school record for single-season winning percentage. Even if Saint Mary's doesn't win a single game in the postseason, Bennett's team will finish with a higher percentage than the 1988-89 team that went 25-5. "It's really hard to do," Bennett said. "We didn't talk about it much (but) Rahon knew. He knew what that thing was and he was hunting it down."
There will be some movement ahead of them, but the Gaels aren't likely to make much of a jump, if at all.
Santa Clara: The Broncos are the fourth seed for the WCC tournament and will have a bye in the first round.
Saint Mary's: The Gaels also receive a first-round bye and won't play until March 4.