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Injury could blow ill for Gaels’ future

Cards on the table: Gonzaga didn’t beat the Saint Mary’s JVs Thursday night.

But even the hyper manic Kennel Club lost some of its juice when the Gaels’ Patrick Mills came out of the locker room at halftime with an icebag balanced on his right wrist.

So you can imagine the effect it had on the Gaels.

Skeptics will thus put an asterisk next to Gonzaga’s 69-62 victory in this bottom-of-the-Top-25 showdown, and that’s their privilege.

“But come March, there won’t be,” said Gaels center Omar Samhan.

Selection Sunday, he means.

“I’m sure a lot of people can say that – ‘They were winning when Patty was in the game,’ ” Samhan said. “But come March, it’s win or lose – what did you do? They got a good win at home, but they still have to come to our place.”

The question is, will the Gaels still be the same team for the rematch come Feb. 12?

They were certainly not the same after Mills, the little comet from Canberra, left the game at the last media timeout in the first half. To that point, he had fired in five remarkable 3-pointers in the span of eight minutes, flogging the Gaels to a lead that once stretched to eight points. Then he crashed to the court in a stumble dance with Gonzaga’s Jeremy Pargo and left the game with what was initially reported as a sprained right wrist, never to return.

With X-rays still to be taken to determine the true severity of the injury and whether a cast might be in Mills’ future, it’s impossible to say if he’ll be on call for Project Revenge in Moraga.

If he’s not, the Gaels are going to have to come up with a better solution to his absence than they did here – which amounted to missing every outside shot they took in the second half until the game clock dipped under 30 seconds.

“Not having him in the second half didn’t help,” said Gaels coach Randy Bennett. “But we still had some pretty good looks and we couldn’t make a shot.”

So it turns out the well-hyped affair actually had a lot of everything and then some.

A big game – two ranked teams from the West Coast Conference, for only the second time in history. Big energy from another McCarthey sellout. Big buckets. And a big twist of fate.

The feeling hadn’t yet returned to the extremities of the Kennel Clubbers who bivouacked outside for a week by the time the Zags zoomed to an 8-2 lead on a couple of breakaway dunks by Steven Gray. Then the Bulldogs got a little frantic on offense and Mills found his considerable range – so much so that it seemed he might sprain his wrist from too much pronation on his follow through.

Even after he left, the Gaels took a six-point lead into intermission – and the Zags didn’t sense their determination had changed with the bad news.

“They still had pretty good intensity,” Pargo offered. “In a situation like that, if the Bulls went on the court without Michael Jordan, I’m sure they would have come out looking to win and expecting to win. (The Gaels) didn’t come out deflated. And they didn’t run from a challenge.”

But they could only post up Samhan and the redoubtable Diamon Simpson so many times without long-range support.

“We’re a deep team and we believe in each other,” Samhan said, “but as you see it’s not the same without Patty.”

This now begs the question: Does this make their next meeting a loser-out game for the Gaels?

Yes, Saint Mary’s is still eligible to win the WCC tournament in Las Vegas and the league’s automatic bid to the NCAAs along with it. But if the Gaels don’t, their resume is – to this point – still without a signature victory, their non-conference schedule having been noticeably light on big names after losing to UTEP in the first round of the 76 Classic in Anaheim back in November and missing the chance to meet a Wake Forest, a Baylor or an Arizona State.

The Gaels have not even played a team in the Top 50 of the Ratings Percentage Index, much less beaten one and only once before has an at-large selection to the NCAAs had such a hole in its bona fides – that being Manhattan way back in 1995.

The Zags are having some RPI issues themselves, thanks to the general haplessness of the WCC. But they have three Top 50 wins – and they’re all alone atop the standings.

“Until we lose, it’s our conference,” said sophomore Austin Daye. “Unless someone got the history wrong, I remember us being in the NCAA tournament the last 10 years.”

But, really, wasn’t something missing from this achievement?

“You could say that,” he allowed. “But if we lose Jeremy because of an injury, we’ve still got to come out and execute and do the right things. Sure, there are going to be X factors and Patty’s a pretty big X factor. But they have other players. They recruited other good guys and their good guys were brought in to win. They weren’t brought in to keep it a close game.”

They weren’t brought in as the JVs.

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