San Francisco Chronicle

Gaels win their 15th straight, get closer to crown

- By Steve Kroner Reach Steve Kroner: skroner@sfchronicl­; Twitter: @SteveKrone­rSF

Make it two months without a loss for Randy Bennett’s St. Mary’s Gaels.

In Moraga on Saturday night, No. 18 St. Mary’s extended the nation’s longest active winning streak in men’s college basketball to 15 with an 88-62 thrashing of San Diego.

St. Mary’s (23-6, 14-0) clinched the No. 1 seed in next month’s West Coast Conference tournament and at least a share of the regular-season title. If the Gaels prevail at Pepperdine on Thursday night or Gonzaga (12-2 WCC) loses to USF at Chase Center that evening, St. Mary’s wins the title outright.

If the Gaels lose and the Zags win Thursday, St. Mary’s would need to beat Gonzaga in Moraga next Saturday night to own the title alone.

The Gaels’ winning streak is tied for the second longest in school history, behind a 19-gamer in the 2017-18 season. And their 14 consecutiv­e conference win set a school record.

Their last loss? A 69-64 decision to Missouri State in Moraga on Dec. 23.

St. Mary’s did not trail against San Diego. Center Mitchell Saxen led the Gaels with 20 points, and forward Alex Ducas had 18 as he went 6-for-7 from beyond the arc.

“When he gets an opening, it’s money,” San Diego head coach Steve Lavin said of Ducas. “Early in the year, he had some struggles, but he’s found his way and now is shooting as well as anyone in the country from long range.”

Through the first 17 games this season, the Australian was 30-for-92 (32.6%) from beyond the arc. In the past 12 games, he has gone 37-for-56 (57.8%).

Describing his shooter’s mentality, Ducas said, “I say to myself and my teammates always say to me, it only takes one to get me going. I never miss two in a row. That’s my saying to myself every time I do miss: It’s never two. The next one’s always good.”

Ducas, who is in his fifth year in the program, suffered a back injury in the Gaels’ 70-55 loss to eventual national champion Connecticu­t in the NCAA Tournament last year.

“It’s pretty tough to come back from an injury like that,” Ducas said. “You always think, ‘If I’m playing the game, then I’m back to fully 100%.’ It’s not that case always. You have to get the reps and be patient with yourself and allow yourself to get back to where you were.”

Briefly: St. Mary’s backup center Harry Wessels missed the game because of a shoulder injury he suffered in practice. Bennett did not have an update on Wessels’ status. … San Diego guard Wayne McKinney played only seven minutes before departing with a right knee injury.

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