March 7, 2010 - 10:58 pm
Saint Mary’s got 16 points and 13 rebounds from Omar Samhan and defeated Portland 69-55 to advance to the championship game of the West Coast Conference tournament at the Orleans Arena.
The second-seeded Gaels will meet No. 1 Gonzaga in the title game at 6 p.m. on Monday.
Mickey McConnell added 16 points for the Gaels, who shot 55.6 percent from the field.
McConnell was a large part of that, making 7 of 8 attempts, including 2 of 3 from 3-point range.
Matthew Dellavedova also had 16 points for Saint Mary’s and Samhan added four blocked shots.
Ethan Niedermeyer led the Pilots with 12 points, but Portland shot just 28.8 percent from the field. T.J. Campbell and Robin Smeulders were the biggest offenders, combining to go 5-for-24.
“They’re good players. They’re hard to guard,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “We did a great job on them. They didn’t have their best night, but I’d like to think we had something to do with that.”
Portland coach Eric Reveno gave Saint Mary’s full credit for playing a stifling defense. The Pilots like to shoot from long range, but made just 3 of 11 from beyond the arc.
“They’re the best team in the county at defending the 3-point line statistically and they did that to us tonight,” Reveno said. “They forced us to go to plan B and we’re much better with plan A.”
Portland made a brief run early in the second half to get within five points, but it was all Saint Mary’s from there. The Gaels led by as many as 24 points late in the game.
After the game got that close, Saint Mary’s held Portland without a field goal for over 10 minutes to take control.
The Pilots surprisingly dominated in points off turnovers. They converted 19 Saint Mary’s turnovers into 19 points. The Gaels got just three points off eight forced turnovers.
That is something that will have to be corrected if Saint Mary’s wants to end a six-game losing streak to Gonzaga.
Win and in
Saint Mary’s has a pretty good resume, but then again, it had a pretty good resume last year.
The Gaels lost to Gonzaga in the WCC tournament a year ago and then were left out of the NCAA tournament on selection Sunday.
Omar Sanham said there is one sure-fire way to avoid the same fate this year.
“There’s a lot of ifs and buts with the bubble watch,” he said. “But there’s just one fact and that’s if we win, we are in. We don’t want to leave it up to anyone but ourselves.”
To do that the Gaels will have to end a six-game losing streak to the Bulldogs.
Samhan thinks the team is in the right frame of mind to do that.
“I think it’s different because we’ve improved defensively and we are really sharp right now,” he said.
They better have improved a lot.
Gonzaga blew out Saint Mary’s in both regular season meetings.
Scoring and rebounding aren’t everything and numbers don’t always tell the whole story in basketball.
But its difficult to believe that Omar Samhan was not voted the player of the year in the WCC.
The Saint Mary’s senior center led the league in both scoring and rebounding by comfortable margins.
He had nearly 3.5 more rebounds per game than Portland’s Luke Sikma, who finished second in the category.
Samhan also averaged exactly three points per game more than Pepperdine’s Keion Bell to run away with the scoring crown.
He recorded 10 double-doubles this season. Only one other player in the league had more than three and that was Gonzaga’s Elias Harris with just four.
Wait, there’s more.
Samhan was the league’s defensive player of the year, averaging nearly three blocks per game while no other player averaged two.
The only problem for Samhan is the fact he doesn’t wear a Gonzaga jersey.
Matt Bouldin was named the league’s player of the year, mostly because he was a great leader on the best team in the league.
That’s great reasoning when there’s no clear-cut best player in the league, but that’s not the case here.
Samhan deserved the award. He can get his revenge tomorrow by helping his Saint Mary’s squad to an NCAA Tournament berth with a win over Bouldin’s Bulldogs.
There hasn’t been a whole lot of media here covering the event until today.
The tournament gives byes to the top two teams on each side, so the premiere teams haven’t been in action for the first few days.
Some schools had as few as one or two people in the media contingent covering their postseason tournament.
It didn’t appear anyone was here covering a couple of the teams.
That changed today as the media section was overflowing with people covering Saint Mary’s and particularly Gonzaga.
There is even a beat writer here from a paper in Australia covering the Gaels.
Saint Mary’s has been a haven for players from the country and he says the team is a big deal over there.
The fact the paper sent him here to cover this tournament should make the media outlets in California ashamed by their lack of coverage of the event.
Gonzaga’s fans have a full day ahead of them on Monday as both the men and women will play for conference championships at the Orleans Arena.
Both teams were the top seeds coming in and looked well deserving in easy semifinal victories on Sunday.
The women are up first as they play third-seeded Pepperdine at noon. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
The men’s championship game is the one most people wanted to see coming into the week.
Saint Mary’s, the No. 2 seed, may have gotten a tournament berth with a dominant semifinal victory over Portland, but the Gaels don’t want to leave anything to chance.
They are 25-5 on the season, but are 0-1 against teams in the RPI top 25.
A win over Gonzaga would give the Gaels an automatic bid, but a close game on national television might be enough.
The game begins at 6 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN.