November 27, 2016

LAS VEGAS (AP) St. Mary's is used to playing in the Orleans Arena every March, having been there annually since 2009 for the West Coast Conference Tournament.

Due to scheduling conflicts, the 15th-ranked Gaels got an early season look at the venue on Sunday, and earned a 76-63 victory over UAB.

''They weren't coming to our place and we weren't going there and we decided to play in Vegas - everybody likes to go to Vegas to play games this time of year,'' St. Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. ''It was good for us. It was a good basketball game in non-conference and I think it'll help us down the road.

''I think it'll help us resume wise, and I think it'll help us just as a team, playing against a team that athletic and that big. They're used to winning, they don't go away. So, we had to play well and we did play well.''

Jock Landale scored 20 points to lead No. 15 St. Mary's (5-0). He was 9 of 11 from the field.

In doing a much better job of not getting beat off the dribble, something Bennett was looking for in the Gaels' stopover in Las Vegas, they did a good job of limiting UAB's shot selection at key moments. The defensive stops allowed St. Mary's to go on significant runs to keep the Blazers well behind.

The Gaels outscored UAB (3-3) 30-16 during a 14-minute stretch in the first half to open their largest lead of the game, 40-23.

''We had some good stretches, and we need more of them,'' Bennett said. ''We played 40 minutes tonight, we probably had 25 minutes of what I thought was good defense. That's got to be closer to 37 or 38 minutes, that's where we need to get. We were closer to that last year and we have to get back there.''

The Blazers wouldn't go away, however, as they came out of the locker room and used a 16-7 run to cut the lead to seven, at 50-43 with 14:33 left. But the Gaels used a 13-3 run of their own, ignited by three consecutive 3-pointers, to push the lead back to double digits, at 63-46 with 9:29 remaining.

Though it is just five games into the season, St. Mary's looked in mid-season form for most of the game, with solid ball movement and noticeable chemistry the Blazers are still looking for without junior point guard Nick Norton, who was lost for the season with a torn ACL.

''We get along so well on and off the court and I think that adds to our trust factor,'' Landale said. ''We never really doubt each other to make the shot or an open play. We just get how each one of us operates individually and it makes things a lot easier.''

Emmett Naar, Stefan Gonzalez and Calvin Hermanson each scored 12 points for the Gaels. They were 27 of 52 (.519) from the field, including 50 percent (13 of 26) from 3-point range. St. Mary's also hit all nine of its free throws.

Meanwhile, the Blazers continue to struggle without Norton, who came into his third year as a starter but was lost for the season just 15 minutes into the season-opener.

The Blazers shot 47 percent from the field, hitting 26 of 55, and were led by Chris Cokley, who had a season-high 20 points. Deion Lavender also had a season high with 12.

''I was proud of the way we fought back and competed and made it a good game, but we've been doing that and we've shown flashes,'' UAB coach Rob Ehsan said. ''We're going to have to figure out how to play consistently at a higher level, and I think we're still learning that against the best teams in the country.''

BIG PICTURE

The undefeated Gaels look to finish the opening month unscathed this week, and then will enjoy five straight home games to start December. Given their competition, and their slate from Dec. 8-22, it's conceivable St. Mary's can open West Coast Conference play 11-0.

RESERVE MINUTES

Bennett said he plans to utilize his reserves much more starting with the next game, with hopes of giving quality minutes to Tanner Krebs, Jordan Ford, Dane Pineau, Jordan Hunter to get their confidence up in time for conference play.

''The first five games have been pretty tough, so it's been hard to be liberal with the substitutions,'' he said. ''We have another tough one with Stanford on Wednesday, but I think we can get some guys that are on the bench in the game.''

UP NEXT

St. Mary's: At Stanford on Wednesday night.

UAB: Host Alabama A&M on Tuesday night.

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