MORAGA, Calif. — A Top 25 ranking won't satisfy Saint Mary's this season.
Maybe not even a berth in the NCAA tournament.
The small Bay Area program and perennial winner under coach Randy Bennett has had more than its share of accolades almost since he arrived in 2001. Here's another the Gaels are after: the first undefeated home season.
Rob Jones had 17 points and 10 rebounds and Matthew Dellavedova scored 13 points to lead No. 24 Saint Mary's past pesky Pepperdine 61-47 on Thursday night for its eighth straight victory. The Gaels are a perfect 14-0 at home this season with only four games left at McKeon Pavilion.
"Our goal is trying to stay undefeated at home," Jones said. "It hasn't been done here. So I go into each game thinking about that, with that on our minds. I think it will help motivate us."
Sure seemed to in this one.
Stephen Holt added 12 points and three assists to help the Gaels (18-2, 7-0) remain the only unbeaten team in the West Coast Conference. Saint Mary's has won 16 of 17 since a loss at No. 3 Baylor on Dec. 22.
Caleb Willis had 14 points and Jordan Baker added 13 for Pepperdine (7-11, 1-6), losers of six straight and still searching for its first conference road win of the season. Corbin Moore had 15 rebounds for the Waves.
Saint Mary's had to hold off one of the league's worst teams longer than it hoped.
After the Waves scored the first six points of the second half to trim the deficit to one, the Gaels finally did what they do best: shoot and shoot often.
Holt and Jorden Page hit 3-pointers and Mitchell Young had a putback to start Saint Mary's surge. Then Jones stole the ball at midcourt from Kenton Walker II and finished with a two-hand slam and Dellavedova followed with a 3-pointer to give the Gaels a 44-34 lead.
"The game got tight in the second half and we didn't panic," Bennett said. "I trust our guys. I have confidence in the leadership out on the floor. We weren't playing that bad. They hit some shots. I thought we could play our way through it."
Once Saint Mary's shooters started rolling, the Waves had no answer.
Dellavedova and Holt made consecutive 3-pointers to put the Gaels ahead 59-44 with 5:56 remaining and turn a tight game into a rout. Saint Mary's outshot Pepperdine 42.6 percent to 40.9 percent.
"We're going to take something out of this," Pepperdine coach Marty Wilson said. "We have to. Not playing well, not winning, we have to find all the positives. And they'll be quite a few at both ends. Our guys competed, our guys stayed together and they executed at both ends."
Saint Mary's is one of eight teams in Division I — along with WCC rival Gonzaga and newcomer BYU — to win at least 25 games in each of the last four seasons. An 83-62 romp over Gonzaga last week pushed the Gaels into the AP poll for the first time this season, and they are showing no signs of slowing down.
Or dropping out of the rankings.
Bennett's bunch proved anything but passive in the opening minutes, getting contributions from all over — including another packed crowd at tiny McKeon Pavilion — the court for a stirring start.
Dellavedova drove through the lane for two layups, Jones had a dunk and a 3-pointer and Holt's layup capped a 13-1 run that put the Gaels ahead 21-8 midway through the opening half.
Riding a strong defensive and rebounding effort, the Waves only allowed eight points and two field goals over the final 9:59 of the first half. Willis and Baker combined to go 3 for 3 from beyond the arc and Pepperdine sliced Saint Mary's lead to 29-21.
The effort was a far better performance than the one Dec. 31, when Saint Mary's routed Pepperdine 74-45 in a game that was never close.
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