MORAGA, Calif. -- When it comes to evaluating just how much a group of athletes grew during the course of a season, there may not be a better case study than the 2012-13 Saint Mary's men's basketball team.
Consider where the Gaels started.
The Gaels stumbled against Pacific and Georgia Tech at the DIRECTV Classic, leaving them with a 4-2 record at the end of November. Improvement was needed if Saint Mary's wanted to reach the same level of success it has in recent seasons.
Fast forward to the middle of March, and there the Gaels were, celebrating their third trip to the NCAA Tournament in four years with a first-round win over Middle Tennessee State.
It was a familiar feeling for a program that came a long way in just a few short months.
In the end, Saint Mary's finished 28-7 overall and 14-2 in the West Coast Conference. It was the sixth straight season of 25 wins or more in Moraga, and the 14-2 record in conference equalled the Gaels' most wins in the WCC in school history.
"I couldn't be more proud of a group of guys. They had to fight through a lot of things and had a very successful season," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "You try and measure how close you came to your potential as a team. I don't know if you can ever get there all the way, but these guys came pretty close."
There were moments along the way that will live forever in Saint Mary's history.
The first came on New Year's Eve. A boisterous McKeon Pavilion crowd watched as Saint Mary's fell behind by double digits against Harvard, only to see the Gaels battle back in the second half.
Two free throws by Mitchell Young with 1.1 seconds gave SMC its only lead of the game as the Gaels won 70-69 against a Crimson squad that would eventually make the NCAA Tournament.
Just over two weeks later, Matthew Dellavedova would turn a cold night in Provo, Utah into one of the most memorable moments in program history.
A jumper by Tyler Haws gave BYU a two-point lead over the Gaels with two seconds left in front of a raucous Marriott Center crowd.
Beau Levesque would inbound the ball, pass to Dellavedova, and the senior from Maryborough, Victoria, Australia would take just a few steps before heaving a shot from just inside half court.
The last gasp effort found the bottom of the net, giving Saint Mary's a 70-69 win and touching off a wild celebration. The shot received widespread national attention, and came as the second victory in a nine-game winning streak that carried the Gaels into mid-February.
"It was a big win, a big confidence builder," Bennett said. "It proved out to be a game that probably helped get us in the NCAA Tournament."
Home wins over BYU and Creighton helped bolster the Gaels' postseason resume, but the next truly memorable moment came on Senior Day against Santa Clara.
The Gaels celebrated five tremendous seniors -- Dellavedova, Young, Paul McCoy, Kyle Rowley and Tim Williams -- and also saw a bit of history as Dellavedova became the school's all-time leading scorer in the win over the Broncos.
He passed his countryman, Daniel Kickert, to claim the record, and finished his Saint Mary's career with 1,933 points.
Dellavedova leaves the program as its all-time leader in a host of statistical categories, but his contributions as a team leader will perhaps leave the biggest void.
"Obviously we've lost some good players and one tremendous player and that'll be tough to replace. The on-court will be tough to replace," Bennett said "The leadership piece is the toughest one. That's the biggest hole. We've got to get that done by committee. There's not a player we can bring in that will replace that."
The 2012-13 season came to an end in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, with a win over Middle Tennessee giving way to a narrow defeat against Memphis.
With injuries testing the team and forcing lineup changes late in the season, the Gaels' resolve never wavered, and Saint Mary's finished the season with heads held high.
"That's why I say there's no regrets with this team. These guys left it all out there, as much as any team we've ever had. They gave you all they had," Bennett said. "I told them after that last game, we didn't lose, we ran out of time. There was nothing that said losing about this team. They did all the things that you talk about when you talk about guys being winners."