Gaels now a legit mid-major team

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Gaels now a legit mid-major team

An odd thing happened as Mondays Saint Marys-Gonzaga was parrying itself back and forth before a captivated national audience, a thing Randy Bennett has wished for since he came to Moraga.The Gaels started to look, sound and be perceived as one of those mid-majors. You know, like the team they were playing, and Xavier, and Dayton, and Butler. The kind that gets the benefit of the doubt when the conversation turns to who seems NCAA Tournament-worthy as opposed to who does not.Not this team, mind you. This Gaels team was in unless it was blown out by the Zags and caused committee members to review their late-season stumbles. This team had played its way off the bubble, and only a horrific performance could move them back on it.RELATED: Gaels dancing after 78-74 OT win over Zags in WCC championship
And in past years, that would have been enough to send them packing to the NIT. It has happened to the Gaels before, with better teams than this one.But the Gaels and Zags put on a grand performance Monday, showing themselves to be each others equals in talent, heart and smarts in a 7874 overtime win by Saint Marys, and suddenly Bennetts dream, the one that had hit him square in the beezer on at least two other occasions because he and his program werent in enough, seemed to be realized.You see, while NCAA committees are lectured again and again about taking each year as its own entity, it does not. It cannot. Each year brings with it its own assumptions, and its own presumptions, and until this game, there were doubts about Saint Marys worthiness to be included not among this seasons 68, but among the four or five mid-majors who have to play their way out, rather than into, the tournament each year.And though it seems daft to put that kind of load on a game in which both teams really had little to lose tournament-wise, the Gaels had stumbled down the stretch, losing at Gonzaga (always a hard hand to make), at home to Loyola Marymount, and then handled in a Bracket Buster game at Murray State that lots of people across the country watched.Those were three of the Gaels five losses, but because they came in a tightly-packed bunch in February when people who dont typically stay up until 2 a.m. wanted to see their collective mettle tested, the good works of the first two-and-a-half months seemed in jeopardy. One more presumptuous mid-major that couldnt bring the mount home.Instead, they won their last three games, and then faced off with their doppelgangers for what seemed like the 35th time in five years, and in a game that did both schools credit, endured.So theyll probably be a six-seed, maybe even a five. The SI.com projection of them as a seven playing Cal in Omaha in the first round seems far-fetched now. The Gaels are safe and dry, and hoping for the committees next favor, a matchup that will enhance their strengths and wont expose their weaknesses.But more importantly, after eight years of building from soot and taking more than a few shots in the nethers on Selection Sunday, Bennett finally has the program where he always dreamed it could go the elite mid-major level Gonzaga helped trailblaze.This revelation will doubtless make him more expensive for athletic director Mark Orr to keep, and more attractive to schools who havent figured out their own basketball legacies and are perfectly happy to buy one instead. Bennett has more than met his burden of loyalty in Moraga, and nobody would begrudge his leaving.But if he does, the Gaels lose the national traction he helped gain for them, and they are back needing, rather than owning, that benefit of the doubt. He paid for that prize over the years, dearly. Now the question becomes whether he prizes it so much that he is loath to let it go for a career move he has actually deserved for several years now.After all, Monday was a pretty heady night for the program he built, and he can now enter the next phase of his career. Deciding whether to enjoy what hes done after all the years of seeing it dangle beyond his reach, or try and do it all over again somewhere else.Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

Hermanson scores 17, No. 22 Saint Mary's beats BYU 70-57

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Hermanson scores 17, No. 22 Saint Mary's beats BYU 70-57

PROVO, Utah — Saint Mary's knows all about the raucous atmosphere at BYU. The Gaels hadn't won in Provo since 2013 and had only come out on top in three of their previous 12 trips.

Make it four out of 13.

Calvin Hermanson scored 17 points and No. 22 Saint Mary's cruised to a 70-57 victory over BYU on Saturday night, snapping a three-game road losing streak to its West Coast Conference rival.

"It's definitely one of the tougher places to play for us," Hermanson said. "Coming in here we know it's a huge crowd and we know they can get riled up on any 3-point shot or any run they make. We wanted to try to limit their runs and their big plays.

"The second half was pretty unbelievable how quiet the crowd was. It felt great for us."

With two games remaining on the regular-season schedule, the Gaels (24-3, 14-2) clinched a second-place finish in the conference standings behind top-ranked and undefeated Gonzaga.

Saint Mary's controlled the game most of the night, riding its staunch defense on one end and running efficient offense on the other. The Gaels were able to get to the rim consistently, but also knocked down 10 3-pointers.

BYU (19-10, 10-6) shot 39.7 percent from the field and connected on four 3s.

Evan Fitzner had 15 points for Saint Mary's, including 11 in the second half.

"We didn't turn the ball over and we shot the ball well," Gaels coach Randy Bennett said, "and were able to get some separation and then it made it tough on them. We kind of just wore them out after that.

"We're a little different team with Fitzner out there. He spaces the floor," Bennett added. "We just play a little different with Fitzner out there versus Jock (Landale). It's nice to have a Plan A and Plan B."

Saint Mary's took a 41-30 lead into halftime thanks to Hermanson's hot shooting and plenty of that trademark defense. The Gaels began the day ranked second in the nation in scoring defense, then held the Cougars to 37.9 percent shooting from the field in the first 20 minutes.

Saint Mary's shot 57.1 percent at the other end, including a 3-for-4 effort from Hermanson from behind the arc.

"I feel like we're better than we showed tonight," BYU guard TJ Haws said. "That team made a lot of runs on us. Tough defensive and offensive team. Very poised and disciplined.

"I want our team to just fight. When they punch us in the face, I want us to punch them right back."

BYU kept Landale under control in the half — and in foul trouble throughout — but Saint Mary's scored 22 of its 41 first-half points in the paint.

Eric Mika had 18 points for BYU, and Yoeli Childs added 13.

"The key to the game was that they were comfortable the entire time in our gym," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "That's on us. We need to be ahead. We need to get them to speed up a little bit because they're a little bit uncomfortable.

"But the game went pretty much exactly how they wanted it to go and we couldn't flip it. We couldn't get on top."

BIG PICTURE

Saint Mary's: The Gaels will be the No. 2 seed in the WCC tournament. No. 1 Gonzaga secured the regular-season title Saturday with a win over Pacific. An early December defeat to UT-Arlington is the Gaels' only bad loss this season, with the other two coming against Gonzaga.

BYU: The Cougars likely needed a win against the No. 22 team in the country to make an argument for the NCAA Tournament off their regular-season credentials. BYU has lost all three games against ranked opponents by double digits, including to Saint Mary's twice, and doesn't have a signature win. The Cougars get one last chance against Gonzaga next Saturday.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

No. 22 Saint Mary's might find itself moving up a bit after No. 17 Florida State and No. 21 South Carolina lost on Saturday.

UP NEXT

Saint Mary's: Travel to face Pepperdine on Thursday.

BYU: Play at Portland on Thursday.

Pickens, Travis rally Stanford past rival Cal for upset win

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Pickens, Travis rally Stanford past rival Cal for upset win

BOX SCORE

STANFORD -- Dorian Pickens scored 23 points, Reid Travis had 19 with nine rebounds and Stanford held on to beat California 73-68 on Friday night.

Marcus Allen added 11 points for the Cardinal, who overcame an early 12-point deficit to beat their cross-bay rivals for the 21st time in the last 24 meetings between the two teams at Maples Pavilion.

Stanford (13-13, 5-9 Pac-12) won for only the second time in seven games and split the season series with California.

Pickens had nine points, including a pair of 3-pointers, as part of a 20-5 run in the second half when the Cardinal pulled away.

After California closed within 62-56 on Grant Mullins' 3-pointer with 4:54 remaining, Allen made two free throws and Pickens scored on a jumper from the free-throw line as he was falling backward onto the court.

Jabari Bird scored 23 points and set a career-high with seven 3s for the Golden Bears (18-8, 9-5). Ivan Rabb added 16 points and 13 rebounds after being slowed by foul trouble in the first half.