"I did have the zero (points scored in last year's meeting) in the back of my mind," said McConnell. "I tried to make a conscious effort not to let that happen again. I just tried to come out today and be aggressive. I got some good looks and that helped."
Also of importance was Saint Mary's interior defense on Sacre, who shot just 4-for-13 from the field in scoring his 17 (9-10 FT). Phil Benson, who's been banged up for much of the season, played a role in this as did Mitchell Young. With Sacre being one of the best interior players in the WCC the Gaels needed to make him work for his shots and they did a good job of that for much of the night.
"Phil was the only guy physical enough to match Sacre," remarked head coach Randy Bennett. "We needed him. He is a very confident guy and knew his role. For him to do that, having played the minutes he has and playing a game like that. Playing that well was real impressive."
The Bulldogs were also hurt by Steven Gray fouling out with 4:58 left in the game, taking away their best perimeter scoring threat. But a McConnell three-point play with 2:42 remaining gave Saint Mary's a 68-67 lead, and it's tough to blame that on Gray's absence. Is Gonzaga done in regards to the WCC race? No but it certainly doesn't look good for Mark Few's team, who also lacks a prolific non-conference profile with just a game against Memphis left to be played. They could find themselves in a somewhat foreign position when the WCC Tournament rolls around, having to win the tournament in order to make the NCAA Tournament. As for Saint Mary's, they're in good position to win the regular season title after this victory. (quotes courtesy of Saint Mary's Athletics)
Other Notable Happenings
1. Illinois and Michigan State look like unstable basketball teams right now.
Two teams who weren't expected to have any part of the bubble talk in the Big Ten were Illinois and Michigan State due to their talent and coaching. But something's up with both squads, and they both sit in the middle of the conference standings at 4-4 after losses to Indiana and Michigan respectively. Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford led the way for the depleted Hoosiers but it was Tom Pritchard who made the crucial bucket, tipping in a miss with 44.2 seconds remaining to seal an important win for Tom Crean's program. As for Michigan, Zack Novak and Darius Morris combined for 36 points and Stu Douglass hit an important three-pointer late to give them their first win in East Lansing since 1997.
What's wrong with the Illini and Spartans? Illinois received poor outings from both Demetri McCamey and Mike Tisdale, and with McCamey being the focal point of this team at the point they can ill-afford a bad night from him given the inconsistent nature of many of their players. As for Michigan State, Kalin Lucas scored 27 points but with a non-existent bench (the loss of Korie Lucious hurts here) they can't have Delvon Roe scoring just one point. Draymond Green had his issues as well, dealing with fouls for much of the evening and scoring nine points. The key word for both: consistency, more specifically the lack of it. Can these two turn it around in time? That's a tough question to answer definitively right now.
2. Arizona takes care of UCLA at home, moving into 2nd place in the Pac-10.
If there was any doubt that Derrick Williams is one of the premier frontcourt players in America it should have been erased last night, as he scored 22 points in helping lead the Wildcats to an 85-74 win over UCLA. The win gave Arizona sole possession of second place in the Pac-10, and the performance of Momo Jones was also vital to their win. Jones scored 17 points while also accounting for three assists and three steals, and his play down the stretch will be critical to the Wildcats' success. Add in Jordin Mayes off the bench and a dependable option on both ends of the floor in Kyle Fogg and this triumvirate will need to be at their best if Sean Miller's team is to not only get back to the NCAA Tournament but make some noise upon arrival. Teams will look to take away Williams inside and while that's a task far easier said than done others will still need to step up. Last night's performance was a good indicator of Arizona's progress in their department.
3. VCU blows out Hofstra to take over first place in the CAA.
Shaka Smart's club came out hot and when they can knock down shots and set up their pressure opposing teams are in trouble, especially at the Siegel Center. Jamie Skeen led four starters in double figures with 18 points as the Rams beat Hofstra 82-67 to move to 9-1 in league play, and with their balance and versatility VCU has to be one of the favorites to take the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Charles Jenkins led Hofstra with 20 while Greg Washington added 15 but with Mike Moore going for a quiet seven and Brad Kelleher shooting 2-for-8 from the field they were a bit limited offensively. VCU got to the foul line (21-25) and controlled the glass at a margin of 38-28 (Bradford Burgess had 14 to go with 15 points), and those two areas ultimately decided the outcome. VCU's had a negative rebounding margin all season, and if they can improve this in big games look out. They're already not a fun team to play against due to their style of play and talent, and if the rebounding joins the party VCU could be headed back to the Big Dance.
Top Three Games
1. Saint Mary's 73, Gonzaga 71
2. Chattanooga 111, UNC Greensboro 110 (2OT) Ricky Taylor capped a 41-point night with a hoop with 15 seconds remaining to move the Mocs to 8-2 in SoCon play. Korey Van Dussen led UNCG with 33 points but it wasn't enough as they saw their win streak end at three.
3. Liberty 83, UNC Asheville 81 (OT) A John Brown tip as time expired kept the Flames within a game of first-place Coastal Carolina in the Big South. Jesse Sanders (20 points) and David Minaya (19) led the way for Liberty while Matt Dickey (20) and D.J. Cunningham (16) did so for UNC Asheville.
Three Notable Performances
1. F Kenneth Faried (Morehead State) 23 points and 23 rebounds in the Eagles' 72-65 win over Tennessee State.
2. F Julian Boyd (Long Island) 34 points and 16 rebounds in the Blackbirds' 97-89 win at Fairleigh Dickinson.
3. G Ricky Taylor (Chattanooga) 41 points on 12 for 18 shooting from the field in the Mocs' 111-110 double-overtime victory over UNC Greensboro.
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