MORAGA -- Defense remains a work in progress for the Saint Mary's College men's basketball team, but the Gaels' effort was just good enough in an 80-74 victory against upstart Pepperdine on Thursday night.

Saint Mary's never trailed after the opening minutes, but the Gaels had trouble pulling away in front of 2,654 fans at McKeon Pavilion. It was Saint Mary's 14th consecutive victory over Pepperdine.

"We had chances to separate, but we don't sustain a defensive effort long enough to ever hold leads," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "Until we do it's going to be down to the wire every game."

Besides defensive struggles for the Gaels, they suffered from second-half shooting woes. After leading by as many as 11 points in the first half, the Saint Mary's lead dwindled to one point twice as it shot just 39 percent from the floor in the final 20 minutes. The Gaels also went nearly eight minutes without a field goal and missed 12 consecutive 3-point attempts.

"We won a tough game, but we're better defensively than that," the Gaels' Brad Waldow said. "We're very athletic, so we should be getting a lot more stops."

But Saint Mary's (15-5, 5-2 WCC) survived, thanks in part to Stephen Holt (20 points, seven rebounds), Kerry Carter (18 points) and Beau Levesque (13 points), plus a strong second half from Waldow.


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The Gaels' junior center finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds, and he exacted a little revenge on Pepperdine big man Brendan Lane, one of his high school rivals.

Waldow remembers his Ponderosa-Shingle Springs team being knocked out of the playoffs by Lane's Rocklin squad.

"It's cool getting a little revenge on a guy six years later," Waldow said. "I don't know if he still remembers, but I do."

Lane led Pepperdine with 18 points, six rebounds and three blocks before fouling out. In Lane's first year on the court since transferring from UCLA, his emergence is a part of the Waves' major improvement over last season.

Picked to finish last in conference before the season, Pepperdine (12-9, 5-4) has already matched its best win total overall and in WCC games over the past nine years.

The Waves aren't the only team that has improved -- there's more parity in the conference than usual with no team undefeated and no team still looking for a victory.

"Usually some teams start to break off and separate, but you really haven't seen that yet," Bennett said. "I don't know that it will happen.

"The fact that all of our teams were .500 or above going into league, we just have more good teams and, thus, more balance."

SATURDAY'S GAME
Loyola Marymount (11-10,
3-6 WCC) at Saint Mary's
(15-5, 5-2), 3 p.m. CSNCA