Saint Mary’s blasts Santa Clara to win ninth straight, stay unbeaten in WCC play

MORAGA — Freshman Aidan Mahaney scored 20 points and Randy Bennett inched closer to 500 coaching victories as Saint Mary’s beat rival Santa Clara 77-58 in West Coast Conference play on Saturday night.

The Gaels (18-4, 7-0) won their ninth straight game to remain alone atop the WCC standings. The win was the 12th in 13 games for Saint Mary’s, which began the day at No. 7 in the NCAAs NET computer rankings.

Ranked No. 24 this week in the national coaches poll, the Gaels seem nearly certain to climb into the AP Top-25 after sitting at No. 27 in those rankings.

Bennett now has 498 career victories at Saint Mary’s, with the Gaels scheduled to return to the court at BYU in next Saturday.

Mahaney made four 3-pointers and reached the 20-point plateau for the sixth time this season and the third time in the past four games. Center center Mitchell Saxen scored 14 points while seniors Alex Ducas and Logan Johnson each contributed 13.

Santa Clara (16-5, 4-3) had 14 turnovers, not an extraordinary total, but the Gaels took advantage by converting them into a stunning 24-4 advantage in points off turnovers. Saint Mary’s led by as many as 28 points.

Carlos Stewart and Keshawn Justice scored 17 and 12 points, respectively, for the Broncos.

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CLOSING IN ON 500: Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett entered Saturday’s game needing just three victories to reach 500 for his career. After Saturday’s rout, his 498 wins were 388 more than any previous Gaels coach and second all-time in the WCC, trailing only Gonzaga’s Mark Few (674).

Santa Clara’s Herb Sendek actually has more coaching victories (526), although just 113 of them have come in his seven seasons with the Broncos.

CHASING PATTY MILLS: Guard Aidan Mahaney is on pace to challenge Patty Mills’ freshman scoring record at Saint Mary’s. Mahaney had scored 309 points entering play Saturday, averaging 14.7 per game. If he maintains that number he would total 485 points, presuming Saint Mary’s plays just one WCC tournament and one postseason tournament game.

The program record for points by a freshman is 472 by Patty Mills in 2007-08. Matthew Dellavedova scored 412 in his first season in 2009-10 and Daniel Kickert put up 380 as a freshman in 2002-03. All three of them were from Australia. Mahaney prepped 2 miles away from the Saint Mary’s campus in Moraga at Campolindo High.

NET GAINS: The Gaels arrived at the weekend at No. 7 nationally in the NCAA’s NET rankings, a statistical evaluation used to place teams in the NCAA tournament field and to seed them. It’s the highest Saint Mary’s has ever resided in the NET and highest among WCC teams this season.