There’s no denying the fact that point guard Matthew Dellavedova graduated as one of the greatest players in the history of Saint Mary’s basketball. In four seasons at the WCC school “Delly” was a three-time All-WCC selection and a two-time honorable mention All-American. A personnel loss that big isn’t something a program simply glosses over and moves on, and for that reason more than a few prognosticators immediately decided that the Gaels were ill-equipped to challenge Gonzaga and BYU for the WCC title.
But now that they’re 8-0 on the season following an 82-74 win at Boise State on Saturday, it’s become quite apparent that it wasn’t wise to make that hasty conclusion.
Thanks to the hot shooting of Stephen Holt and James Walker III, who shot a combined 7-for-9 from three in the first half, Saint Mary’s led by as many as 16 points before the Broncos cut the margin to just two points at the half. More than a few teams in that spot would wilt when on the road against a formidable opponent, but Saint Mary’s didn’t. Instead the Gaels became even more balanced offensively, with four players scoring at least six points in the second half.
Holt led five players in double figures with 24 points and six assists, and the performance was his most productive of the season to date. With leading scorer Brad Waldow accounting for just five points in the first half the Gaels needed players to step up and Holt did just that, scoring 18 of his 24. It would be unfair to ask any one player to fully replace Dellavedova, given what the graduated point guard provided in both stats and intangibles. But it it isn’t unfair to expect Holt and Walker (can’t forget Kerry Carter either) to do much of the heavy lifting on the perimeter, and thus far they’ve done that.
It’s safe to say that Waldow’s going to score more than he did against Boise State (11 points, 11 rebounds), as he entered the game averaging a team-best 18.6 points per game. But with the guard play and the presence of forward Beau Levesque, a relatively quiet night for a player who’s one of the WCC’s best big men isn’t a deal-breaker for Saint Mary’s.
Next weekend the Gaels will play in the Diamond Head Classic, and with possible games against Boise State (semifinals) and No. 17 Iowa State (final) Saint Mary’s can potentially pick up another quality win or two before WCC play starts. But through eight games it’s become clear that at the very least Saint Mary’s can finish in the top three of the WCC for an 11th consecutive season.
And a conference title shouldn’t be considered unrealistic for this group either.