MORAGA — Their matching grey sneakers tapped on the floor, their knees bounced and their hands were restless as they waited in chairs on the floor of the University Credit Union Pavilion.

When the NCAA Tournament bracket was revealed around 3:30 p.m. PT on Selection Sunday and the Saint Mary’s men’s basketball players finally heard their school’s name called, their anxiousness turned into excitement as they leaped into the air and into each others’ arms.

A No. 5 seed, the Gaels (26-7) will play in a Friday matchup in Albany, N.Y., against No. 12 seed Virginia Commonwealth University (27-7), the Atlantic 10 Conference champions who should be hungry to make a run after several positive COVID-19 tests ended their most recent appearance in the Big Dance before it started in 2021.

But the Gaels’ celebration of their No. 5 seed, tying last year’s team as the highest seeded in program history, lasted only a few seconds. An awkward moment put it on pause.

While a couple hundred fans high-fiving and holding their phones out and the Gaels’ mascot flexing his muscles, CBS analyst Seth Davis made a prediction that blasted over the stadium’s speaker system.

“VCU is going to beat Saint Mary’s,” Davis declared.

The stadium went silent for a moment. Then, a chorus of boos as the players looked at one another with a familiar grin.

Surprise wouldn’t be the right word. This was to be expected.

The Gaels were on a roll until just a couple weeks ago.

Since Feb. 25, they have played three games; one was a 76-69 win over Brigham Young University in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference tournament, and the two others were losses to Gonzaga. The first, a 77-68 defeat on the Bulldogs’ home court, was nothing to be too upset about.

But when both teams met for a rubber match in the WCC finals last Tuesday, Gonzaga overpowered SMC in a convincing 77-51 win to claim its fourth straight conference title.

A sample of the comments from head coach Randy Bennett after the game: “We were awful… We didn’t show up… We let (an early deficit) bother us.”

Sunday, Bennett said his guys were feeling better after two strong days of practice and the hope they’d improve their shot selection after an ugly affair that saw them shoot 33% from the field.

“We’ve been working on it,” he said. “We’ll get two more good ones this week.”

The Gaels will travel on Wednesday to …read more

Source:: The Mercury News


Saint Mary’s earns No. 5 seed in NCAA Tournament, ready to ‘prove a lot of people wrong’

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