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Saint Mary's senior guard Joe Rahon snickered a bit looking back at how teammate Jock Landale has slimmed down to become as efficient as any big man in the country.
"When he came in my redshirt year, his freshman year, he was a little bigger and slower back then," Rahon said. "But his touch around the basket was always really impressive."
Landale's vice was ice cream, but the Australian vowed to slim down the day after Saint Mary's 2015-16 season ended in the NIT and stuck to a "bland" diet to improve his fitness and conditioning over the offseason.
"That's something I didn't have at all until this year," Landale said. "That was probably the biggest thing is just getting my body right and working toward becoming a player who can play for 35 or 40 minutes rather than a player who can play for a two- or three-minute spurt and then get exhausted."
What followed was a year of remarkable efficiency for the No. 2 player in Ken Pomeroy's Player of the Year standings, despite losing West Coast Conference Player of the Year honors to Gonzaga's Nigel Williams-Goss.
The Saint Mary's center is second in the country in the player efficiency rating (33.4), 16th in field-goal percentage (.612), 11th in total rebound percentage (21.6), 20th in defensive rating (89.7) and first in win shares per 40 minutes (.293) entering the No. 7-seed Gaels' second-round date with No. 2 seed Arizona on Saturday.
Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said Landale's offensive game always was there, but he finally came into his own this season in terms of defensive staying power and fitness.
"Last year, he was our leading scorer per minute. [We thought] all right, this guy can score," Bennett said. "He helps us there. We have to get him better defensively so we can keep him on the court. And that's what happened."
Landale, who racked up a double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds to lead Saint Mary's over VCU in the first round, will have his stiffest defensive test yet against the Wildcats and freshman phenom, all-Pac-12 first-teamer and 7-footer Lauri Markkanen. And don't forget about 6-11 Chance Comanche and 7-footer Dusan Ristic patrolling the paint for Arizona.
"They do have the length and athleticism over us probably, so we just have to really dig deep and work together as a team to keep those guys off the boards," Landale said.
Still, the junior said he "would back our bigs against any bigs in the country" and relishes the challenge of taking on post players found few and far between in the WCC.
"Our league is filled with guys who aren't really the tallest players in America, so it's always nice going up against guys who are 7-footers," Landale said. "It does provide another challenge, but we play defense, and I think we'll be all right."
Landale is thankful for the payoff for laying off the sweets.
"I think I put myself in the position every day where I can just work on these skills to get better and it's just come together this year," he said.