Saint Mary's is in the midst of a tough 10-day, four-game stretch of the season, but Gaels coach Randy Bennett simply refuses to think about it.
"I can only look at them one at a time, because if you look at all four, it's daunting," Bennett said. "Going to (San Francisco) is going to be tough."
The 19th-ranked Gaels (13-1, 3-0 WCC) got by their first significant test of the West Coast Conference season by beating Brigham Young, 81-68, at home on Thursday.
Next comes Saturday's game at San Francisco, which has hit a bit of a lull lately, but showed promise earlier in the season.
After that comes a road contest against Portland before the four-game challenge ends with a Jan. 14 game at No. 5 Gonzaga.
Bennett is only thinking about San Francisco, which is 11-5 overall and 1-2 in the WCC after losing two straight games. But a neutral-court win over Utah during the non-conference play suggests the Dons are capable, especially at home.
For the second time this season, Bennett will go up against one his former assistants at Saint Mary's. Last week, the Gaels got by San Diego, whose head coach, Lamont Smith, was a Saint Mary's assistant for six seasons. On Saturday, he faces a San Francisco team coached by Kyle Smith, who was a Gaels assistant under Bennett for nine years.
Kyle Smith is trying to coax a young team that has only one senior on the roster to be competitive in the WCC.
"We're playing good teams consistently and getting scouted harder," he said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. "For the young guys, these games are a little bit of wake-up call. A little bigger moment. They've got to find a way to handle that."
They were unable to handle it in a 95-80 home loss to Gonzaga on Thursday, as Bulldogs guard Nigel Goss-Williams went off for 36 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
The one bright spot was the career-high 20 points scored by freshman Jordan Ratinho, although senior Ronnie Boyce continues to be the Dons' leading scorer at 15.8 points per game.
"Offensively, we got some good looks but just didn't shoot it very well," Smith said.
USF entered Thursday's game ranked 20th nationally in 3-point shooting percentage, but made just 7 of 29 from long range against Gonzaga.
The Dons limited Gonzaga's 7-foot-1 Przemek Karnowski to 10 points and two rebounds, and they hope to have similar success against Saint Mary's 6-11 center Josh Landale.
Landale made 11 of 13 shots and scored 26 points against BYU.
"But he didn't play selfish at all," said Bennett, noting that Landale handed out six assists in the game.
For the season, Landale is averaging 18.2 points on 65.6 percent shooting while grabbing 9.6 rebounds per game.
"Super skilled" is how BYU big man Eric Mika described Landale.
The Dons have a 7-footer in Jimbo Lull, and he started six games early in the season. He has been coming off the bench lately and averages just 11.2 minutes and 3.3 points. Furthermore, he is a freshman, so he might be overmatched against the Gaels' standout junior big man. The Dons may seek other ways to defense Landale.
The Gaels have good shooters surrounding Landale. Guards Emmett Naar and Joe Rahon are a combined 9 of 20 from 3-point range in their three conference games, and Tanner Krebs is 6 of 8 from distance in that span. And their best outside shooter is Calvin Hermanson.
"When you have shooters all around, it makes it easier for me," Landale said.
As a team, the Gaels are shooting 50.5 percent from the field, eighth-best in the county. They do it with precise execution and ball movement, ranking eighth in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio.
"That's what we try to be -- a team that passes the ball and moves it," Bennett said.
Meanwhile, USF is trying to rekindle the spirit that made the Dons a national power in 1950s, when they won consecutive national championships, and the 1960s and 1970s.
"I feel it every day," Smith told the Chronicle regarding USF's basketball tradition. "We're trying to live up to that legacy a little bit. We've got to connect to that somehow."
San Francisco were riding high earlier in the season but are recently suffering a dip in form and with a young team that lost at home to Gonzaga on Thursday, they're not going to find the Gaels that much easier. Saint Mary's are shooting 50.5 percent from the field and have the momentum, which will help them put away the Dons.
Saint Mary's 81, San Francisco 75