Feb. 25, 2008
Saint Mary's - 61
San Diego - 54
MORAGA, Calif. (AP) -Tron Smith and Todd Golden will soon leave Saint Mary's in better shape than they found it. Until then, the seniors settled for departing McKeon Pavilion in style.
Smith scored 15 points and Golden added 10 in their final home game, and the 25th-ranked Gaels avenged the only conference loss of their remarkable season with a 61-54 victory over San Diego on Monday night.
Diamon Simpson had 15 points and 11 rebounds for Saint Mary's, and he made two key plays in the final seconds as the Gaels (24-4, 11-1 West Coast Conference) persevered through another quiet game from star freshman Patty Mills, their leading scorer.
A showdown with No. 24 Gonzaga looms for Saint Mary's on Saturday, a fact not lost on the Gaels or their grateful crowd. The game is likely to decide the regular-season conference championship, which the Gaels haven't won since 1997 - but until then, they were determined not to waste the final home date of a season that's exceeded nearly all expectations.
"It's an awesome feeling to go out on top," said Smith, a transfer who enrolled at three other schools before finding a home in the Bay Area's eastern hills. "We just wanted to make sure we took care of business, because we owed these guys."
The two seniors have been key role players for the Gaels, but both stepped into prominent roles against the Toreros (16-13, 9-3), who beat Saint Mary's at home 63-55 on Jan. 28.
Smith scored 10 first-half points and played stellar defense on Brandon Johnson, San Diego's leading scorer. Smith also had two key baskets during a decisive 14-4 spurt midway through the second half - a run made with no help from Mills, who finished with just two points, none in the second half.
"Teams have really started sitting on (Mills) and making it tough for him to get shots," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "We didn't shoot it great, yet we were still able to score and separate down the stretch. Our depth wore on them a little bit, and that's been a strength of our team all year."
After a fitting curtain call at home, Saint Mary's is in position to do even greater things over the next few weeks - starting this weekend in Spokane. The Gaels and perennial power Bulldogs are both 11-1 in the WCC.
"It's on our minds a lot," Simpson said of the upcoming trip, which ends at Portland next Monday. "That was one of our goals at the beginning of the season, so we're going to try to get it."
Just two days after losing a BracketBuster home game to Kent State, Saint Mary's went nearly 8 minutes without a field goal down the stretch against San Diego. But the Gaels played solid defense and got heady play from Simpson to improve to 7-1 in February.
Johnson scored 15 points and Gyno Pomare added 14 for the Toreros, who will host the WCC tournament as the No. 3 seed.
"We certainly had some opportunities with some shots around the basket that we didn't finish," San Diego coach Bill Grier said. "We do such a good job on Mills, and yet they don't seem to struggle. That's how you can tell they're a good team."
Mills, the Gaels' Australian point guard and leading scorer, took just one shot in the first half and played mediocre defense, though he had five assists. He watched Saint Mary's decisive run on the bench with a towel around his neck, but was the first cheerleader off the bench as the Gaels pulled away.
Hughes, Mills' countryman, provided the game's most sublime play during the run when he stripped the ball from Danny Brown, dribbled the length of the court and bounced a behind-the-back pass to Golden, who hit a layup while getting fouled.
The senior's free throw put Saint Mary's up 49-37, and Omar Samhan's layup stretched the lead to 14 points moments later. Samhan played despite a dislocated shoulder, scoring seven points.
After Simpson hit a layup with 40 seconds left, San Diego trimmed the lead to 56-53 on Chris Lewis' 3-pointer. Carlin Hughes hit two free throws before Simpson fought through a crowd to secure the ball and draw a foul with 8 seconds left.
Gonzaga - 73
Portland - 51
PORTLAND, Ore. - The shorthanded Portland Pilots gave the 24th-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs a scare Monday night at the Chiles Center. The Pilots, playing without leading scorer Nik Raivio, led by eight late in the first half before the Bulldogs pulled away down the stretch for a 73-51 victory before a crowd of 4,527.
Senior David Pendergraft and junior Jeremy Pargo led Gonzaga with 13 points each, while sophomore Robin Smeulders paced the Pilots (8-20, 2-10) with 12 points off the bench. Taishi Ito and Walter Thompson added 10 each for Portland.
Raivio, whose brother Derek was the West Coast Conference Co-Player of the Year last season for Gonzaga, suffered a right knee contusion in practice over the weekend and did not suit up for the game. Despite losing their only double figure scorer, Portland came out blazing and led for nearly the entire first half. At the three minute mark, a pair of free throws by Robin Smeulders gave Portland a 27-19 lead, the largest Gonzaga deficit in WCC play this year.
The Bulldogs (22-6, 11-1 WCC) turned to junior point guard Jeremy Pargo late in the period and his three runners in the lane brought the halftime deficit to 29-27.
The teams went back and forth most of the second half and Portland took their final lead of the contest on a pair of free throws by senior Sherrard Watson, making it 40-39 with 11:27 remaining. Gonzaga retook the lead and pushed the margin to 50-42 on a three by Micah Downs with 8:01 remaining.
After a layup by Pilot freshman Kramer Knutson, the Bulldogs went on an 11-2 run to take a 15-point lead and put the game out of reach.
Gonzaga outrebounded the Pilots by a 23-10 margin in the second half and shot 56 percent from the field after the break.
"Our main focus was to limit their transition offense and prevent second chance opportunities," Portland head coach Eric Reveno said. "We did a good job of that for the most part, but they wore us down on the glass as the game went on. Their athleticism and length provided difficult matchups."
Portland shot just 37 percent in the game compared to 50 percent by Gonzaga. The Bulldogs gained a 38-24 edge in the paint and 14-6 margin in second chance points.
Thompson provided the Pilots with a big offensive boost off the bench in the first half, scoring eight of his 10 points in the period.
"They are a very good team and we're trying to keep getting better," Reveno added. "I was please that we played them tougher tonight, but am still disappointed with our lack of consistency."
The Pilots will conclude the regular season at home this weekend. Santa Clara visits on Saturday at 7 p.m., while No. 23 Saint Mary's comes to town Monday at 7 p.m. Both games will be televised live on Comcast SportsNet.
Santa Clara - 87
San Francisco - 55
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) - Freshman Ben Dowdell scored a team-high 21 points to lead Santa Clara to an 87-55 rout of San Francisco on Monday night.
John Bryant added 15 points for Santa Clara (14-13, 6-6 West Coast Conference) and became the 27th player in Bronco history to surpass 1,000 career points.
Dior Lowhorn had 22 points to lead the Dons (7-20, 3-9 WCC), who also got 11 points from Manny Quezada and 10 from Myron Strong.
With San Francisco trailing 48-20 at halftime, Danny Cavic scored a fast-break layup with 7:45 left in the second half to cut Santa Clara's lead to 21 points, but that was as close as the Dons got.
Dowdell, a native of North Nowra, Australia, was 6-8 from the field in the first half as Santa Clara roared out to an early lead.
The Broncos started four seniors who were playing in their final home game and got immediate production from the group. Josh Higgins scored five points in the opening minutes before being replaced by Bryant, who took advantage of the smaller Dons, scoring eight quick points in the paint.
The Broncos were 20-29 from the field in the first half, including six of 11 on 3-point attempts.
The Dons, meanwhile, struggled to hold onto the ball. They committed 12 turnovers in the first half and connected on only eight of 24 shots in the period.