Gaels earn coveted NCAA Tournament berth

It seems that the St. Mary’s Gaels finally got sick of being part of the NCAA Tournament bubble discussion. After being left out of the “Big Dance” last season, the Gaels locked up a berth in the NCAA Tournament with a tremendous victory over the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the West Coast Conference Tournament championship game.

After being swept during the regular season by Gonzaga, the Gaels came out and played arguably their best basketball of the season. Even with Omar Samhan struggling from the field, St. Mary’s used an outstanding defensive performance and some key contributions from Ben Allen and Mickey McConnell to pull out the 81-62 victory.

McConnell, who didn’t even score when these teams met in Spokane in early February, led the way for the Gaels with a game-high 26 points and six assists. With so much of the attention being paid to slowing down Samhan in the paint and McConnell on the perimeter, Allen took advantage of numerous open looks, scoring 20 points on 8-11 shooting.

With Gonzaga clearly out of rhythm and missing the presence of the injured Mangisto Arop, it’s no surprise the Zags shot only 42.9% from the field. Steven Gray capped off an excellent WCC Tournament performance, scoring 16 points and providing Gonzaga with their only consistent offensive player. Both Matt Bouldin and Elias Harris struggled mightily on the offensive end, shooting a combined 5-21 from the field.

While Gonzaga already was considered a lock for the NCAA Tournament, this loss likely ends any chance of the Zags playing the first two rounds in Spokane. However, if both Gonzaga and St. Mary’s can play at a high level next week, there should be the expectation that both teams could advance beyond the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

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