Washington State got its wish. The Cougars will take their 17-15 record into the NIT, facing St. Mary’s Tuesday night in Moraga, Calif., at 8 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN2. For more on the Gaels, read on. We’ll have more after we talk with WSU coach Tony Bennett this evening.
• The Gaels finished the regular season 26-6 overall and 10-4 in the West Coast Conference, where they finished second to Gonzaga. The Bulldogs were also the only team to defeat St. Mary’s at home, winning 72-70, though the Gaels were without point guard Patty Mills.
St. Mary’s lost four games without Mills, who broke his wrist in the first half of the Gaels’ 69-62 loss at GU. Mills, who leads St. Mary’s with a 17.8 scoring average, returned for the WCC Tournament, but was ineffective. He was 2 of 16 from the floor – 0 of 7 from beyond the arc – in the 83-58 tournament title game loss to Gonzaga.
The Gaels used a loophole in the NCAA scheduling rules and added an extra game with Eastern Washington last Friday, but their 85-65 win must not have impressed the NCAA selection committee. Mills, who played on Australia’s 2008 Olympic team, was 6 of 14 against the Eagles, for 19 points.
But St. Mary’s isn’t a one-man team. Forward Diamon Simpson, twice the WCC’s defensive player of the year, averaged 13.8 points and 10.5 rebounds, despite being just 6-foot-7. Center Omar Samhan is a presence in the middle, with the 6-11, 265-pound junior averaging 14.2 points and 9.4 rebounds.
Besides Gonzaga – the Gaels lost three times to the Bulldogs, WSU lost at home 74-52 – the teams have one other common opponent: Oregon. The Cougars defeated UO three times, including 62-40 last Wednesday in the Pac-10 Tournament. St. Mary’s went to Eugene in mid-December and edged the Ducks, 78-73.
The winner of the WSU/St. Mary’s game will face the winner of South Carolina/Davidson in the second round.