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

Stanford tops North Carolina on PKs, advances to NCAA final

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USATSI

Stanford tops North Carolina on PKs, advances to NCAA final

HOUSTON — For the second straight season, Stanford found itself depending on penalty kicks to advance to the College Cup final.

Like last season, the Cardinal came out on top. After each team converted its first nine attempts in the tiebreaker, Amir Bashti made it 10-for-10 for Stanford. Tar Heels defender Alex Comsia then sent his try over the crossbar to end it, giving Stanford a 10-9 win.

"They had just as many good chances as us, and it could have been a 1-0 game either way," Stanford coach Jeremy Gunn said.

Stanford (14-3-5) will face Wake Forest in the College Cup final on Sunday in search of its second straight national championship.

"It's not his fault. We could have done things in the game to have his back," North Carolina defender Colton Storm said of Comsia's miss. "It could have been any of us."

"It's the nature of the game," North Carolina coach Carlos Somoano said. "Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don't. Sometimes there's moments you seize the moments, and sometimes it runs away from you."

North Carolina (14-3-4) had the two best chances of the game. Late in the second half, forward Alan Winn was denied by goalkeeper Andrew Epstein, who made a nice save with his legs.

Later, Epstein made the best save of the match in the final seconds of the second overtime on a shot from forward Tucker Hume. After gaining possession in the right side of the 18-yard box, Hume unleashed a shot that Epstein deflected wide with his legs.

"He made the plays to keep the game at 0, and he deserves credit," Somoano said.

After a flurry of corner kicks and a free kick in an attacking area, Stanford had the best opportunity to score in the first overtime on a header from Drew Skundrich, but he put if over goalkeeper James Pyle, who had six saves. Foster Langsdorf, the Stanford goal leader who scored in the team's first three tournament games and has 15 on the season, had three shots and two on goal but was unable to break the deadlock before the game went to penalty kicks.

"Any result like that is going to be tough to swallow," Storm said. "Stanford's a really good team. We each had our chances. National semifinal, it's going to be tough to swallow no matter what."

While Epstein was unable to stop any of North Carolina's penalties in the shootout, his saves late in the game enabled Stanford to continue its quest for a repeat.

"Andy's never really attracted much attention, but when you're his coach you appreciate him," Gunn said. "You can depend on him."

Stanford has won 15 of its last 18 games after starting the season with three ties and a loss. The Cardinal have yet to concede a goal through four tournament games, while North Carolina's season ends after a third consecutive tournament shutout.

After winning the first national championship in program history last season, Gunn praised his team for continuing to push forward this season.

"It's incredible," Gunn said. "You've always got to be optimistic. There's no point in being anything else. We started the year so well in January. I thought, 'These players are so hungry.'"

Seton Hall slips past Cal basketball at Pearl Harbor Invitational

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AP

Seton Hall slips past Cal basketball at Pearl Harbor Invitational

HONOLULU Jabari Bird nearly notched his first collegiate double-double with 22 points and a career-high nine rebounds, but just as his effort fell short, so did California men's basketball's efforts against Seton Hall. The Pirates slipped past the Golden Bears, 60-57, at the Pearl Harbor Invitational to hand Cal its second loss of the season. The Bears are now 7-2.

Seton Hall's Angel Delgado scored 16 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

Delgado, a 6-foot-10, 240-pound forward, made 6 of 9 shots from the field in a game-high 36 minutes played.

Desi Rodriguez scored 15 points and Khadeen Carrington had 14 points with four assists for the Pirates (7-2).

Carrington tied it at 45 with just under 12 minutes to play on a 3-pointer from the right wing, which ignited a 7-0 Seton Hall run. California never regained the lead.

Ivan Rabb's putback pulled the Golden Bears (7-2) within 58-57 with 31.1 seconds remaining, but Carrington and Delgado each hit a free throw to extend the Pirates' lead to 60-57 with 2.7 seconds left.

Bird had a chance to sent it into overtime, but his 3-pointer from about 25 feet as time expired was no good.

California closed out the first half with an 11-4 run to turn a four-point deficit into a 34-31 lead.

It was just the second meeting between the teams with California winning 81-76 on Dec. 8, 1973.

BIG PICTURE

California: Rabb, a 6-11 sophomore, struggled for the second consecutive game. He made just 3 of his 8 shots from the field and finished with eight points after being held to a season-low six points against Princeton Tuesday. Rabb, who has been playing with a left wrist injury, entered Wednesday's game averaging 17.5 points per game.

Seton Hall: The Pirates reeled off their third straight win despite making just 9 of their 20 attempts (45 percent) from the free-throw line. They shot just 46.6 percent (21 of 45) on free throws for the two-day tournament.

UP NEXT

California will host UC Davis Saturday, its seventh home game in 10 contests this season.