No. 17 Saint Mary’s opens season by beating Nevada 81-63
MORAGA, Calif. (AP) — As dominant as Saint Mary’s has been at home over the past decade, Nevada coach Eric Musselman questioned why he even scheduled the game — especially for the season opener.
“That’s what an NCAA Tournament team looks like,” Musselman said. “They never lose here. I shouldn’t have scheduled the game. I don’t really know what else to say. ... I’ve been in this building too many times. We were not ready to play that type of competition.”
Jock Landale carried the momentum of his strong preseason into a memorable first career start, scoring a career-high 33 points to go with nine rebounds, leading No. 17 Saint Mary’s past Nevada 81-63 in the season opener for both schools Friday night.
Landale, a 6-foot-11 Australian center, shot 15 for 20 and has shown in a hurry how much better he can be with a larger role for 15th-year coach Randy Bennett. He was the backup to Dane Pineau last season, typically the first man off the bench, then arrived for fall camp in better shape and determined. Pineau has been slowed by a back injury, giving Landale an opening.
“He’s our best scorer on the block,” Bennett said. “I’m glad he played well because he put the work in. His freshman and sophomore year, he thought he let up at the end of the summer.”
This offseason, Landale dropped 20 pounds. He gave up bread, pasta and stuck to brown rice.
“I had to change my diet entirely, that was the big thing,” he said. “In the offseason, I cut out all that kind of stuff — chocolate, lollies, soft drink, all that kind of stuff is gone.”
The Gaels shared the West Coast Conference regular-season title with Gonzaga last season but are determined to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013 after three straight years in the NIT.
When Bennett was told of Musselman’s postgame reaction about playing the Gaels, he grinned.
“I don’t know why he did (schedule the game). I’m glad he did,” Bennett said, acknowledging his own nerves for this opponent. “I can’t remember a first game I was more stressed about.”
Marcus Marshall had 25 points while D.J. Fenner scored six straight Nevada points late in the first half and finished with 12.
Landale made four of his first seven shots as Saint Mary’s jumped to an 18-12 lead on the way to a 42-29 halftime advantage at rocking McKeon Pavilion.
This marked the Bay Area return of Musselman, the former Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings head coach beginning his second season in Reno. On his staff as a new assistant is Yann Hufnagel, fired late last season by California amid allegations of sexual harassment.
Cameron Oliver — from nearby Oakland — had five blocks to go with 13 points for the Wolf Pack, who were the College Basketball Invitational tournament champions last season.
Nevada hasn’t beaten a ranked team in the regular season since taking down No. 6 Kansas on Dec. 21, 2003, and going on to reach the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.
This was just the second meeting between the programs after the Wolf Pack won 76-58 on Dec. 12, 2006.
OPENING NIGHT DOUBLEHEADER
California held off the Gaels 74-67 in a women’s game played first as the Golden Bears avenged a loss to Saint Mary’s last season that snapped their eight-game winning streak in the East Bay rivalry.
Nevada: Musselman looks to build following a turnaround in his first year for a team that had gone 9-22 the previous season and improved into a 24-game winner that finished tied for fourth in the Mountain West Conference. ... Nevada shot 14 for 24 from the free throw line.
Saint Mary’s: The Gaels are 112-32 against non-conference opponents over the past nine-plus years. ... Landale — one of seven Aussies on what is expected to be one of Bennett’s strongest rosters — averaged 7.9 points and 3.9 rebounds playing 14.5 minutes last season as a sophomore.
Nevada: Hosts Loyola Marymount on Monday for the first of three straight home games before traveling to Anchorage for the Great Alaska Shootout.
Saint Mary’s: Hosts Prairie View A&M on Wednesday.