The 16th-year coach already realizes this group could emerge as one of his best yet -- and he has had some talented teams tucked away in the East Bay hills.
"It's up there. We'll see," he said. "Potentially, yeah. Potentially we could be. We have to do it."
Even if he had to give the Gaels a little lecture about playing defense during halftime. They responded by running away from Stanford in the second half, with Calvin Hermanson scoring a career-high 25 points and knocking down a career-best seven 3-pointers in No. 12 Saint Mary's 66-51 win Wednesday night to stay unbeaten.
"I wasn't too happy with how we defended in the first half. I didn't think we played hard or smart defensively," Bennett said. "We missed shots but I wasn't worried about that. We can shoot. We just have too many good shooters."
Jock Landale had 13 points and eight rebounds while playing in foul trouble for the sharp-passing Gaels (6-0), who got eight assists from Emmett Naar and six from Joe Rahon.
Grant Verhoeven scored 12 points and Robert Cartwright added 10 for Stanford (6-2), which under first-year coach Jerod Haase is off to its best start in five seasons. The Cardinal began 10-1 in 2011-12.
Hermanson hit five of his 3s in the second half.
"We've got a lot of good shooters on this team and Calvin's one of the best ones," Rahon said. "It was an awesome show he put on at both ends of the floor tonight."
After Stanford pulled within 48-45 on two free throws by Cartwright, Hermanson and Kyle Clark hit consecutive 3-pointers and Saint Mary's took off with a 16-3 run.
Saint Mary's opened the second half on a 12-0 run, getting two quick layups from Landale and Naar's 3-pointer for a 38-30 lead at the 15:36 mark as Stanford missed its first seven shots after intermission. Sheffield hit a jumper at 15:14 for Stanford's first points.
The Gaels needed a strong start after the break to keep its impressive early record unblemished. The teams finished even on rebounds with 29 apiece, but Stanford went 3 for 12 from beyond the arc and shot 38.2 percent for the game to 55.1 percent by Saint Mary's.
"It's every coach's dream to have that many shooters and that many great passers on the floor at the same time. It's hard to guard it all," Haase said, noting, "They came out more enthused than we did."
Saint Mary's won its first five games by an average of 18 points. The Gaels are picked to win the West Coast Conference after sharing the regular-season title last season with perennial power Gonzaga.
The Cardinal, who lost 78-61 on Saint Mary's home floor in McKeon Pavilion last year, then hung tough until the Gaels' barrage of late 3s -- and 11 of 27 from long range overall, 7 of 9 by Hermanson.
Saint Mary's: The defense held Stanford to 21 second-half points. ... Landale made 6 of 8 shots and is now 51 for 67 -- a 76 percent clip. ... The Gaels had 21 assists on 27 baskets, giving them 120 assists on 176 field goals this season.
Stanford: Warriors owner and Stanford fan Joe Lacob sat courtside. ... Haase is 2-9 all-time against ranked opponents. ... The Cardinal dropped to 183-81 all-time against current members of the WCC. This was the first visit by a WCC team to Maples Pavilion since a win over Loyola Marymount on Dec. 17, 2014.
BAY AREA RIVALRY
This marked the 57th meeting between the programs.
Bennett always hopes to keep these series against Pac-12 neighbors Cal and Stanford going for his mid-major program.
"I appreciate Stanford playing us in this home and home. It's great for Bay Area basketball," Bennett said.
Haase is open-minded, too, if the scheduling works.
"I think it's good for the Bay Area," he said. "It's absolutely on the table and we'll continue dialogue."
Saint Mary's: The Gaels have a lengthy layoff before hosting University of Texas at Arlington on Dec. 8.
Stanford: The Cardinal face back-to-back ranked opponents, traveling to face Haase's old Kansas team -- ranked fourth -- on Saturday.
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