Saint Mary's, Cal walk fine line at tourney time

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Saint Mary's, Cal walk fine line at tourney time

Everyone seems to agree that Saint Marys is an NCAA Tournament team whether they beat Gonzaga tonight in the WCC tournament final tonight or not.

Thats the kind of unanimity that makes me nervous.

Saint Marys is, in fact, the perpetual bubble team, and Randy Bennetts soul has the scarring to prove it. The Gaels have been an easy team for the committee to shunt off to the NIT over the past several years, and having WCC Commissioner Jamie Zaninovich in the room isnt necessarily the window in, either. After all, he has to cool his heels outside while the Gaels get the Now what conference are they in again? examination from the other committee members.

St. Marys, though, has one big thing going for them that trumps the late season losses.

The Pac-12.

RELATED: Pac-12 standings WCC standings

Cal, seemingly a lock a week ago, is suddenly on the edge of out by most reputable (read: traditionally reliable) mock brackets. Jerry Palm has them in one of the 12-seed games either Tuesday or Wednesday in Dayton, though presumably a moderate deep run in the conference tournament would take care of that.

But the only other Pac-12 team that seems like a sure-esque thing is Washington, and its hard to envision the conference getting a third when they typically are good for four.

In other words, two spots have opened up, and in the absence of a lot of other great teams out there (the Big 10 is up, the SEC is down, and the ACC and Big East are the ACC and Big East), this may be a big year for properly resumed mid-majors.

Or for a sea of mediocre big conference teams, heaven forbid.

A year ago, the Bay Area got shut out completely, a true rarity over the past quarter-century. The closest it got was Oakland (Michigan), which lost to Texas in the first round.

This wont be that year. Saint Marys looks OK (most folks project them as a seven-seed), while Cal should navigate the lower rungs of the conference tournament to escape even the Dayton round.

But its close, closer than two teams with 49 wins between them ought to be, and part of the problem is that the Pac-12 has gained two teams but lost much stature in the last few years. Not just because UCLA tanked, either.

This is a conference-wide problem, as more coaches have slowed down the game and suffered in recruiting wars because of it. Mike Montgomery, who was always falsely portrayed as an old-school offensive fud, still rolls up points, but he is also working with less incandescent talent than is typical for him.

Bennett, though, has always found something for casual fans (like committee members) to watch, typically from Australia though with the occasional Samhan-ian thrown in for amusement. This is not St. Marys best team, but it is good enough.

That is, unless the Gaels get boatraced in Las Vegas tonight, and end up having to bum money for cab fare home. They are pretty much in, but as Bennett will tell you, pretty much isnt the same as safe.

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.