MORAGA -- Saint Mary's College beat a "sexy" Creighton team 74-66 in a BracketBusters showdown Saturday in front of a sellout crowd of 3,500 at McKeon Pavilion, and did it in the least sexy way -- with defense.
The Gaels (24-5) prevented Bluejays star Doug McDermott from taking over the game and stayed unbeaten against everyone except Gonzaga since Dec. 23 to solidify their NCAA tournament resume.
"They're kind of a sexy team," Gaels coach Randy Bennett said of Creighton. "They've been ranked 16 weeks in the Top 25, got one of the best players in the country on their team. People recognize that's a good win.
"It was a very visible game on national television. All those things I think can be factors. None of us know for sure, but I know it's a good win."
The victory gives Saint Mary's its highest nonconference RPI computer win of the season against the Bluejays (22-7), who began the season 17-1 with wins over Cal, Arizona State and Wisconsin. Creighton was rated No. 47 in the RPI on Saturday morning, two spots ahead of the Gaels.
"As to what it means, I'm not too sure. I haven't been looking at all that bracket stuff. It can't hurt," said Gaels star Matthew Dellavedova, who scored 19 points to move into a tie with Omar Samhan for second place on the school's career scoring list. "We're just focused on getting better."
Certainly the Gaels have gotten better on defense, sometimes viewed as their Achilles heel. In wins
Bennett gave credit to freshman guard Jordan Giusti, who comes off the bench to provide a defensive spark.
"We had to get better defensively. We were too into our offense, not enough into our defense," Bennett said. "Giusti changed us because he puts heat on that ball."
Giusti never took a turn defending the 6-foot-8 McDermott, who has scored more than 2,000 points in his first three college seasons. But just about everyone else on the Saint Mary's roster got their shot at the nation's No. 4 scorer.
McDermott finished with 22 points, right at his average, but he never took charge of the game after Saint Mary's forged a 38-24 halftime lead. That margin grew to 17 points early in the second half and the visitors from the Missouri Valley Conference got no closer than 10 points until the final 50 seconds.
The plan going in was to have Mitchell Young and sixth man Beau Levesque share the defensive work on McDermott, who had 34 points earlier this season in Creighton's win at Cal. But when Levesque got into quick foul trouble, center Brad Waldow and even Dellavedova drew stints chasing McDermott.
"It was great guarding such a high-powered offensive player. Everybody wants to guard someone like that," said Waldow, who had 12 points and 12 rebounds for his fourth career double-double. "I thought we did pretty well. He made a lot of tough shots, but we wanted him to take tough shots."
Bennett was pleased with Waldow, who played well in both games this week after a tough stretch the week before.
"We didn't really plan on him guarding McDermott, but he had to and he did a really nice job," Bennett said. "We just tried to take him off the (3-point) line and make him make 2s on us. He and Mitch were really key in the game."
Saint Mary's, which closes its regular season next week at Pepperdine on Wednesday, then at home Saturday against Santa Clara, improved to 5-3 in games against top-100 RPI teams.
Creighton's NCAA prospects could be fading after its impressive start. The Bluejays are 7-5 against RPI top-100 opponents, but lost for the sixth time in their past 11 games and have won just twice in their past seven road contests.
Follow Jeff Faraudo on Twitter at twitter.com/CalBearsBANG.