MORAGA, Calif. -- — Randy Bennett earned his 500th win as Saint Mary's coach when the 18th-ranked Gaels beat San Francisco 68-59 on Thursday night for their 11th straight victory.
But his focus was on beating a neighborhood rival and remaining perfect in conference play.
“It’s really hard to think about it in any other way than that right now,” Bennett said. “In time you’ll reflect back, and the memories you’ll have of the players and coaches. That’s why we’re sitting here. We’ve had really good players, really good assistant coaches and great administration, and I work at a great place.”
Bennett took over a team coming off a 2-27 season in 2001 and has built Saint Mary's into one of the most consistent winners on the West Coast over more than two decades at the small school in the San Francisco suburbs.
The Gaels have won at least 20 games in 15 of the last 16 seasons — missing out only in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season — and his 500 wins are the sixth-most among active coaches at their current school.
“That’s special,” he said about winning 500 games at one school. “It’s hard to do. It’s just cool to do it at one place, so hopefully we’ll get some more. I’m glad it happened at one place.”
The Dons had won three in a row since losing at home to Saint Mary's last month, but struggled down the stretch and lost the rematch.
“Just a few minor mistakes like offensive rebounds,” Williams said. “It comes down to tough plays and mental toughness. For some reason we couldn’t get that down.”
San Francisco trailed by 13 early in the second half but used a 12-0 run fueled by a pair of 3-pointers from Williams to take a 50-49 lead with less than six minutes left.
But the Gaels responded and scored eight straight points capped by Mahaney's 3 that made it 61-55 with 1:45 to play.
They sealed it at the free throw line and then celebrated with a photo at midcourt of Bennett and his players — followed by an ice-cold water bath in the locker room.
“It’s beautiful," guard Logan Johnson said. "Just to be a part of his 500th, that’s huge. It’s an honor to be a point guard for him right now.”
Both teams struggled offensively in the first half, combining to go nearly five minutes without making a shot from the field.
But the Gaels managed to get to the foul line frequently, making 11 of 12 free throws, and led 36-27 at the break after Johnson hit a 3-pointer in the closing seconds.
San Francisco: The Dons have lost eight straight in the series but nearly broke through under first-year coach Chris Gerlufsen. They fell to 3-31 against ranked teams since the start of the 2012-13 season, with one of the wins coming earlier this season against Arizona State.
Saint Mary's: The Gaels were far from their best in this game, missing 14 of 15 shots from the field during one stretch in the second half and shooting 32.7% for the game. But they made 32 of 37 free throws to maintain their perfect conference record.
HONORING A LEGEND
The teams honored late Dons star Bill Russell, who died last summer at age 88. Russell led San Francisco to back-to-back national titles in 1955 and '56 before going on to have a Hall of Fame career in the NBA with the Boston Celtics, winning 11 championships in 13 seasons.
The players wore shirts with Russell's No. 6 during warmups and there was a brief video tribute to him.
San Francisco: Hosts Santa Clara on Saturday night.
Saint Mary's: Hosts No. 12 Gonzaga in a WCC showdown Saturday night.
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- Mike Reed
- Horace Shields
- Rob Kueneman