The scene around St. Mary’s was one of jubilation Tuesday. After beating Gonzaga 81-62 in Monday’s WCC tournament championship, the Gaels (26-5) assured their postseason fate. They would not have to hold their collective breaths on the bubble during Selection Sunday as a ticket to the NCAA tournament was in hand.
Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett has been chasing the Gonzaga powerhouse for nearly a decade, establishing a recruiting pipeline to Australia and generally trying anything to become the closest thing to a rival for Gonzaga. When he finally caught the Bulldogs, even for a game, Bennett couldn't believe it just yet.
"It hasn't really set in," Bennett said. "It's not like we've done this a whole bunch of times. I was excited with about a minute left because, hey, we're getting this one done." Saint Mary's lost to Gonzaga in last year's tournament title game in Las Vegas, and subsequently were denied an at-large NCAA berth. But even after losing stars Patty Mills and Diamon Simpson from last year's 28-7 team, these Gaels rebounded from two decisive regular-season losses to the Zags with a landmark victory in school history.
"It's hard to get to this position, and this group was finally able to knock the door down," Bennett said. "It feels great to beat the best team. It makes it a little more special for us." Saint Mary's won the WCC tournament for just the second time since it began in 1987, beating Gonzaga for the first time in 10 tourney meetings.