St. Mary's Praying For Tournament Miracle

The St. Mary's Gaels were losing Monday night's WCC Championship game before the game even started.

No -- they really were losing the game even before the opening tipoff. The referees whistled St. Mary's center Omar Samhan for slam dunking during pre-game warmups -- a ticky-tack violation of NCAA warmup rules. The Gonzaga Bulldogs were awarded one free throw shot before the game had even started, and Gonzaga never looked back from there in handing St. Mary's an 83-58 blowout loss and winning their ninth consecutive West Coast Conference championship. In winning the WCC, Gonzaga gets an automatic invite to the NCAA Tournament, their 11th consecutive trip to the March Madness.

The Gaels' game was so lousy that you wondered what they were even doing in the conference championship. They shot a painful, unsighlty 23 percent in the first half. Even their star player Patty Mills looked like he was shooting medicine balls -- he hit one field goal in the entire first half, started the game one-for-eleven, was 0-for-7 from three-point-range, and finished with only five points. Mills played most of the game, but it was still as if the were playing without him.

So the St. Mary's Gaels are left clinging deperately to the bubble. They won an impressive 25 games this season, and their overall record is only a game behind that of Gonzaga -- who will likely be a No. 4 or No. 5 seed in their bracket. But St. Marys' signature wins came against Utah State and San Diego State. Whether you've even heard of those schools depends on how much ESPN2 you watch on an every-weeknight basis.

The tournament selection committee is famously forgiving toward good teams who hit rough patches when their star player was hurt. Mills missed more than a month with that broken wrist. As an individual player, Mills deserves a national audience -- he's a certain first-round pick in the NBA Draft, and in the Olympics he put up 20 points for Team Australia against the U.S. "Redeem Team." That's 20 points while being guarded by Chris Paul and Jason Kidd.

Now the St. Mary Gaels have to hope for as few upsets as possible over the next few days, so no other "Cinderella" teams gain any momentum. And the Gaels will need their lucky charms close by on Selection Sunday.

Joe Kukura is a freelance writer who would stay in on a Saturday night just to watch Ball State play Miami of Ohio on ESPN2.

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