The Gaels head up to The Kennel in Spokane to try to steal one from Gonzaga  

Josh Perkins of Gonzaga and Calvin Hermanson of SMC will play major roles in Thursday's showdown in Spokane. (photo by Ethan Miller)

By Connor Buestad |

As is almost always the case, the St. Mary’s Gaels head into Thursday’s 6pm (ESPN) matchup at #13 Gonzaga knowing full well that the Zags are an outstanding team, bound for yet another NCAA Tournament appearance. The Gaels will get at least two shots at Mark Few's squad, if not a third in the West Coast Conference tournament title game. And if the lads from Moraga want to avoid having their bubble burst on Selection Sunday come mid-March, at least one win against their rival from the great Northwest is all but essential resume material.

Since 2001, Gonzaga has won the WCC regular season crown every single year, save for 2012. That’s the year the Gaels trotted out Matthew Dellavedova, Brad Waldow, Mitch Young, Clint Steindl, and Stephen Holt to counter Few’s college basketball mid-major machine. Not only did the Gaels win the regular season league title that year, but they also won the conference tournament in Vegas, outlasting the Zags in overtime. Something not even Omar Samhan can claim.

Coming off their best year in program history in which they narrowly lost to North Carolina in the National Championship Game, Gonzaga looks to be relatively vulnerable here in 2018, having lost three key starters from a year ago (Jordan Mathews, Nigel Williams-Goss and Przemek Karnowski). Returning starters include guard Josh Perkins and forward Jonathan Williams who are supported by Killian Tillie, Silas Melson, Rui Hachimura of Japan and Zach Norvell, a star freshman guard from Chicago.

Unlike St. Mary’s, Gonzaga has a tough non-conference schedule under their belt in addition to their undefeated WCC record thus far. Gonzaga’s three blemishes came to Villanova (currently #1 in America), Florida (in Double OT) and at San Diego State (certainly their worst lost). Meanwhile, Gonzaga has squared up with Ohio State, Texas, Creighton and Washington and beat them all, proving that a post Final Four hangover isn’t in the cards if that was what the rest of the WCC was hoping for.

An impressive six different Zag players score more than 10 points a game, making it tough for Randy Bennett to drill down during game planning. As usual, Gonzaga is good in all facets, with players that can beat you wherever you look.

That being said, St. Mary’s should have their best chance since 2012 of claiming the pole position in the WCC. Trusted point guard Joe Rahon is gone from last year’s team, but beside that, everyone is back, including Aussies Tanner Krebs, Emmett Naar and Jock Landale as well as Calvin Hermanson of Oregon and Jordan Ford from Sacramento. Ford has stepped up big as the Gaels new point guard, running an offense led by Landale who is perhaps the best player in the entire conference (see 21 points, 10 rebounds a game). Hermanson is a lethal 44% from beyond the arc, featuring a quintessential jump shot that is tough to guard. Meanwhile, Naar leads the team in assists by a huge margin with nine a game. Ford is second on the team with only two a game.

SMC comes into Thursday’s matchup with the best overall record in the league at 17-2, but that can be deceiving considering who’ve they played thus far. Beside Cal, the biggest name schools Bennett was able to schedule came in the Wooden Legacy Thanksgiving tournament held at Cal State Fullerton against Washington State of the Pac-12 and Georgia of the SEC. St. Mary's dropped both, albeit by a total of just seven points combined. As it stands today, the only ranked team the Gaels will play all year before the tournament will be 13th ranked Gonzaga. This will only make the stakes that much higher inside The Kennel.

Despite losing to Gonzaga all three times last year, Bennett’s Gaels managed to punch their ticket to the Big Dance and do damage by beating VCU and playing Arizona tough in the second round. But it’s not every year that the WCC will be a “two bid league” in the eyes of the Joe Lunardi’s of the world. Gonzaga has come back to earth and appear to be as beatable as they’ll ever be. Especially against a team as experienced and savvy as St. Mary’s. We’ll see if the Gaels can head inside The Kennel and silence the big dogs of the west coast. It promises to be as entertaining as ever.

ZAGS Invade Moraga for Annual Rivalry Game at McKeon

Gonzaga's Kyle Wiltjer presents an inside-outside threat on offense for the Zags. (Photo by William Mancebo)

By Connor Buestad |

On Thursday night at 8pm, the Zags and Gaels will renew their storied rivalry on the hardwood in front of a nationally televised audience (ESPNU). Over the last decade, WCC fans have been spoiled with countless great games between these two clubs. Mark Few and Randy Bennett replenish their talent pool every year it seems, always ready to make an honest run at a WCC crown come March. 

After last week's loss at home to BYU, Gonzaga has dropped out of the AP Top-25 for the first time in recent memory. At 6-1 in conference, they share the same WCC record as St. Mary's. Surprisingly, SMC received eight AP Top-25 votes to Gonzaga's five this week.*

To Mark Few's credit, the Zags four total losses this season are nothing to be ashamed of. Notorious for playing a treacherous non-conference schedule, this year's Gonzaga team has lost to (#25) Texas A&M, (#19) Arizona, UCLA, and BYU. 

Traditionally a school known for relying on productive and exciting guards, this year's version of the Zags hinges more on their inside presence. With guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. gone, the face of their program is now 6'10" senior Kyle Wiltjer (22ppg), who is a dynamic offensive scorer who will be tough to contain for the Gaels. Wiltjer is flanked down low by Domantas Sabonis (Arvydas' son), a hefty big man who has a polished offensive skill set, similar to his father. 

Countering the Zags' two-headed monster will be a surprising Gaels team led by, you guessed it, a crop of crafty Australians. Emmett Naar and Dane Pineau lead an offense that is shooting a Warriors-esque 46% from three-point land. Sophomore Aussie Jock Landale has also come on strong as of late, winning WCC Player of the Week honors following his 7-for-7, 24-point performance on Thursday versus UOP.  

The Gaels only bad loss this year came on the road at Pepperdine, falling to Waves in Malibu by three. Randy Bennett's only other blemish this year was a hard fought four-point loss at CAL, a game in which the upstart Gaels earned a great deal of respect from Cuonzo Martin. 

As we now approach late January, there is not a single Mid-Major in the Top-25. It is rare that Gonzaga makes their trip to Moraga without at number next to their name, so you have to believe the McKeon Pavilion faithful will be smelling blood in the water on Thursday night. Adam Morrison certainly isn't walking through that door...

* Section925 has yet to earn a voting seat at the Associated Press table. 

St. Mary’s Matthew Dellavedova: In the Midst of a Basketball Odyssey



[This article was originally published by Section925 on June 30, 2012]

By Connor Buestad | 

In order to trace the steps of St. Mary’s College point guard Matthew Dellavedova, one must fly all the way to the southeast edge of Australia to Melbourne, then trek a hundred miles northwest to a city called Maryborough. There, you’ll find an unassuming town that prides itself on having an historic train station and a competitive Aussie Rules football team. This, as it turns out, is the corner of the globe where “Delly” first fell in love with the game of basketball. A game that is now taking him on a trip to places he could have only dreamed of as a youngster growing up down under.

It goes without saying that Dellavedova grew up far removed from the competitive playgrounds of US cities where the NBA’s future stars typically cultivate their games. He was just as far removed from the brightly-lit gymnasiums where suburban ballplayers attend summer hoop camps and AAU tournaments. Matthew Dellavedova grew up off the grid of competitive basketball. Fortunately for Matt, basketball turns out to be a game that requires very little infrastructure, so long as one has a penchant for putting the ball through a hoop. If we learned anything from Larry Bird a.ka. “The Hick From French Lick”, a dirt driveway with a shoddy hoop in the front yard can supply all the tools one needs to make it as a basketball player.

It was at the tender age of 16 when the lure of fierce competition, state of the art facilities and worldwide exposure led Dellavedova to the Australian Institute of Sport. Built in 1981 in an effort to improve Australia’s Olympic team, AIS has slowly evolved into a place where the best young sports stars of Australia go to hone their skills and market themselves as great athletes to a multi-national audience. During his time at AIS, Dellavedova began to set his sights on coming to America and following in the footsteps of the likes of Adam Caporn, Daniel Kickert and Patty Mills.

As Dellavedova began to wind down his youth career, his relatively modest tool-kit of height and athleticism left Matt with a limited number of Division 1 scholarship offers. “I only went on two visits,” explained Dellavedova. “I went to the University of the Pacific and then to Saint Mary’s. I ended up really liking the people and the atmosphere here at SMC, so I decided to come.” And with that, the 18 year old from rural Australia showed up in Moraga, California, equipped with an unorthodox jump-shot and “deceptive” athleticism. He was in theory joining Saint Mary’s to replace perhaps the best point guard the college had ever seen in Patty Mills, but no one would have blamed him if he didn’t come close to achieving such a tall task.

Instead, Dellavedova burst onto the scene as a freshman during the 2009-2010 season to help lead St. Mary’s to their greatest basketball season of all time. Dellavedova made the WCC All-Freshman team, scoring in double figures and leading the league in minutes played per game. On a team led by guard Mickey McConnell and forward Omar “Broadway O” Samhan, Dellavedova surprised everyone by how quickly he assimilated himself to major D1 college basketball. Using a formula of two parts grit and one part talent, Dellavedova hounded opposing point guards on the defensive end, looking more like a weathered boxer in the twelfth round than a basketball player in the fourth quarter.

When asked about SMC’s run into the sweet 16 during his freshman year, Dellavedova tends to play it down, as he does with most things he talks about. There is no question Dellavedova prefers to simplify things and keep his basketball career in perspective. In other words, Matthew Dellavedova refuses to believe the hype.

To be sure, there was no shortage of hype when St. Mary’s took the court versus second seeded Villanova for a chance to advance to the sweet 16. While Samhan stole the headlines, it was Matthew Dellavedova who quietly added 14 points while keeping Villanova’s dynamic guard duo in check for all 40 minutes. If ever there was a game that put St. Mary’s on the map, it was their Cinderella victory over Villanova. “I remember it all going by very fast,” said Dellavedova. “I was just focused on the games and really had no idea how big the tournament was to all the fans throughout America. When it was all over, I finally had time to appreciate how big of a win that was for the St. Mary’s community.”

Following a sophomore year in which the Gaels narrowly missed the field of 64, Dellavedova took over the reins as the undisputed team leader for his junior season. With the graduation of point guard Mickey McConnell, it was finally Dellavedova’s team, and he certainly knew what to do with it. After Gonzaga’s decade reign over the WCC, Delly and company were finally able to dethrone the Zags and win both the WCC regular season and tournament championships in the same season.

In what was a thrilling conference tournament final in Las Vegas, Dellavedova found himself locked in a pick-and-roll chess match with 7-foot Gonzaga forward Robert Sacre. “Sacre kept guarding me at the top of the key, because when we screened, they would switch defenders on us,” explained Dellavedova. Fortunately, Delly’s love for the art of the running floater proved to be a pivotal asset down the stretch. Delly repeatedly grinded his way into the lane, somehow always finding a way past Gonzaga’s athletic defenders. St. Mary’s looked to have the contest secured, when the Zags’ Elias Harris’ last second prayer from the top of the key was answered, sending the game into overtime where the Gaels narrowly eked out a historic victory.



Perhaps it was fitting that when I got a chance to chat with Matthew Dellavedova, he arrived at the interview wearing his St. Mary’s practice gear, still sweating, fresh off a Tuesday morning workout. It was mid-April and the sun was shining bright on SMC’s sprawling countryside campus. Needless to say, it was a perfect time for Dellavedova to be out enjoying himself. If ever there was an “offseason” for Matthew Dellavedova, this would be it. Instead, St. Mary’s feisty point guard showed virtually no signs of sun exposure, a gym rat in the truest sense of the word. Beside getting out to Bianca’s Deli at the intersection of Moraga Road and Moraga Way for his regular Grilled Chicken and Jack (add Avocado), Dellavedova is most comfortable staying dedicated to the gym, and it shows.

Dellavedova’s commitment to constant improvement now has him set to cross paths with basketball’s greatest collection of current talent, the 2012 edition of the USA Dream Team. Dellavedova recently earned a spot on Australia’s national team, known as the Boomers. He will get to play alongside SMC alumnus and current NBA guard Patty Mills, as well as the Golden State Warriors’ new aquisition, Andrew Bogut. With the London Olympics starting in late July, Dellavedova is now preparing to square off against the likes of Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul. When asked about his thoughts on playing against such extraordinary talent, Dellavedova responds in his signature low-key manner, “It will be good to test my skills against the best.”

There is no question that Dellavedova has leveraged his international basketball opportunities as a means to improve his play as a Gael. Last summer he got to play against France’s Tony Parker, and at the 2011 FIBA Oceania Championships Dellavedova was able to go up against the Spanish national team, in Spain. Facing a raucous home court advantage for the Spaniards, Dellavedova ran up and down the floor with Spanish legends in the making: Pau Gasol, Serge Ibaka, and Ricky Rubio. Games like these go a long way in explaining why Delly plays with such a high level of poise in the WCC. A road game at Gonzaga versus Kevin Pangos doesn’t exactly intimidate a player who is used to matching up with Ricky Rubio in front of his home country crowd.

Go to any St. Mary’s game at McKeon Pavilion in Moraga and it doesn’t take long to notice how important Australian basketball is to the Gaels, and vice-versa. Year after year, SMC opens up their campus to basketball stars in the making, looking for a place to call home and a platform to pursue their dreams. Aussie flags and chants are common at McKeon, and St. Mary’s games are closely covered back in Australia.

Come late July, St. Mary’s students and alums will undoubtedly tune in to follow their adopted native son, Matthew Dellavedova. Who knows how he will perform under the bright lights of the Olympics, stuck with the task of guarding Chris Paul, Kobe, or even LeBron. However, one thing Dellavedova has proven thus far in his distinguished career, he won’t be overwhelmed by the situation.

For 30 minutes I talked to Matthew Dellavedova, and for 30 minutes I tried to uncover some insight on what it’s like to take St. Mary’s to the sweet 16 as a freshman, or win the West Coast Conference title in overtime, or guard Ricky Rubio on his home soil of Spain. But, no matter how far I dug, the more I became content with the fact that Dellavedova really doesn’t believe the hype. The intrinsic satisfaction of seeking out and playing against the best basketball players in the world is what seems to drive Dellavedova to continue to strive and improve. Luckily for Moraga, they get one more year to call him their own.