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St. Mary's rallies past San Diego State, 69-64

Gaels improve to 7-0 with a victory in the Wooden Classic and hand the Aztecs, who blow a first-half lead, their second loss.

December 09, 2007|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

St. Mary's didn't rack up style points in its 69-64 victory over San Diego State in the Wooden Classic on Saturday.

But the undefeated Gaels -- with an upset of Oregon and a victory over Seton Hall already -- might pick up enough votes to crack the top 25 this week.

Maybe more important, they got a feel for what an early-round NCAA tournament atmosphere might be like.

A very good feel, considering the game was in the Honda Center, which will be a host for the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament in March.

"I told our guys this is like the [NCAA tournament] a little bit," Coach Randy Bennett said. "You play in an arena this big. We play in a little gym, and we're not used to playing in a big arena all the time. So this is a great experience for us, playing a good team on a neutral court."

San Diego State started the game with an 8-1 record that matched its best start since the 1931-32 season, the loss coming against California. But the Aztecs, despite leading by eight points in the first half, didn't hold off St. Mary's comeback and missed five free throws down the stretch, shooting 38.5% from the line in the second half.

"We had opportunities that we were not able to take advantage of," Coach Steve Fisher said. "We had what looked like easy shots that we were unable to get down.

"We have to make free throws. We were eight for 18 from the free-throw line. They made 18. You can't let that happen when you're playing a good team. We have to learn from it. We have to grow from it. St. Mary's is a good team and they beat us."

St. Mary's -- selected by three of the eight coaches in the West Coast Conference to wrest the league title from Gonzaga -- has plenty of challenges between now and March.

The Gaels (7-0) play at Southern Illinois on Tuesday and at Texas in January before taking on Gonzaga and the rest of the WCC.

"Gonzaga is always consistently good, and they always give us a challenge," said Diamon Simpson, a 6-foot-7 swingman who had 13 points and 16 rebounds for the Gaels. "I think this year we'll be ready for them."

Guard Tron Smith led St. Mary's with 20 points off the bench. Patrick Mills, a freshman guard from Australia who scored 37 points in the Gaels' upset of Oregon, had 15 points, and made four of six three-point shots.

Kelvin Davis scored 19 points off the bench for San Diego State, and Lorenzo Wade and Richie Williams each had 11.


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