Doug McDermott received a text message shortly after it was announced earlier this month that Creighton's BracketBusters opponent would be St. Mary's.
The sender asked if there were any shooters on Creighton's team. McDermott replied that there were none.
“He replied, 'Well, then plan on seeing a lot of zone and no double teams,'” McDermott replied with a chuckle. “That's all I've heard from coach Bennett.”
“Coach Bennett” is Randy Bennett, the coach of the Gaels team that will host the Bluejays in a 5 p.m. game Saturday at Moraga, Calif. He established a relationship with McDermott two summers ago when they were a part of the United States under-19 national team.
“I developed a really good relationship with him,” McDermott said. “He worked with the big men, even though he's not very big. Kind of like coach (Steve) Merfeld with us.
“I sat with coach Bennett on every plane ride and picked his brain on everything. I know him very well, and I'm looking forward to playing his team.”
Bennett is in his 12th season at St. Mary's and has built the Gaels' program into one of the most productive on the West Coast. St. Mary's has averaged 24 wins in the last eight seasons, and took a 22-5 record into Thursday night's West Coast Conference game against Brigham Young.
The Gaels are in second place in the WCC, with their only league losses coming to No. 3 Gonzaga. St. Mary's had lost just once in 14 home games prior to Thursday's game, and is 28-2 in games played at cozy McKeon Pavilion — capacity 3,500 — over the past two seasons.
The Gaels are led by Matthew Dellavedova, an Australian Olympian who is one of the top point guards in the country. The 6-foot-4 senior went into Thursday's game leading St. Mary's in scoring with a 15.8 average and in assists with a 6.4 average. He also is the team leader in 3-point baskets (66), free throws (97) and steals (32).
Two other Gaels are averaging more than 10 points per game — junior guard Stephen Holt (11.9) and junior forward Beau Levesque (10.7). Four players in the regular rotation stand 6-8 or taller, including 6-9 sophomore Brad Waldow, who is tied with Levesque for the team lead in rebounding at 5.4 per game.
“My concern is how good St. Mary's is,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “I'm not sure if you line us up one for one that we're better individually but we have the capability of being the better team if we do what we're supposed to do.
“It's going to take a heck of an effort. They're outstanding at home and they have one of the best point guards in the country. He'll have the ball in his hands 98 percent of the time, and you have to figure out a way to deal with him.”
Dellavedova's size creates an added challenge, McDermott said.
“It's not like he's some little water bug running around,” the coach said. “He's got size, he has vision and he can really shoot the basketball. He makes all the right plays.”
Creighton will take a 22-6 record and a two-game winning streak into Saturday's game. St. Mary's only defeat in its last 11 games came in a Valentine's Day loss at home to Gonzaga. The Gaels bounced back to defeat Loyola Marymount.
“They are a really quality opponent,” Creighton guard Grant Gibbs said, “and we'll be going into a hostile environment.”
Gibbs has played at McKeon when he was at Gonzaga, and he called it the loudest arena in which he's ever played
“We're going to have to be ready to go,” Gibbs said. “This is a big game for our program and for our season right now. We need this one.”
St. Mary's started the week 47th in the NCAA RPI rankings. A victory would be a boost to Creighton's at-large resume, which has taken a hit during the Bluejays' current 5-5 spell. Creighton started the week at No. 43 after being in the teens when the team got off to a 17-1 start.
“This is a huge game for us,” Doug McDermott said. “They are a very good team, and we know this is going into a great atmosphere. We're looking forward to the challenge, and we know it's really important to them as it is to us.
“We have to be ready to go.”
» Creighton returned to practice Thursday after taking Wednesday off. The Bluejays are scheduled to practice early Friday, then leave by charter in the afternoon. Greg McDermott said the snowy weather should not impact the team's travel plans. “We might get delayed, but we'll get out of here,” he said.
» The Bluejays have won their last five games against teams from the state of California, including a Dec. 15 win this season at California.
» Former Bluejay Kenton Walker played his last two seasons at St. Mary's after playing his first two in Omaha. Walker's collegiate career ended last March in Omaha when the Gaels lost an NCAA tournament game to Purdue in the CenturyLink Center. Walker is now playing professionally in Ireland.
» Sophomore center Will Artino's 6-for-6 shooting from the field in Tuesday's win over Southern Illinois continued his hot hand from the field. The 6-11 Artino has made 24 of 27 field-goal attempts (88.8 percent) since the start of 2013. For the season, Artino is shooting 64.7 percent from the field.
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