By James Nelson
MORAGA, Calif. -- Although no one likes waking up early on a Friday morning to catch a flight, that early wake-up call is always a little easier when life is going as well as it is for the Saint Mary’s men's basketball team.
Coming off their record-tying ninth straight win to open the season after a 59-44 victory over American University on Thursday, the Gaels are flying high both on the court and off as they prepare to catch an early flight Friday morning.
Of course, no one should feel too sorry for the Gaels even with the alarm clock sounding early. The next time they take the court, they will do so in an environment associated more with vacationing than anything else.
Saint Mary's begins play in the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu, Hawai'i on Sunday at 8 p.m. (PST) against South Carolina and, although the team is clearly looking forward to the challenge, Gaels head coach Randy Bennett made it clear his team will enjoy the scenery as well.
“It’s business and it’s fun.” Bennett said. “We have to keep things in perspective. We want to go over there and do well and see if we can win a tournament. But at the same time we will take some time to go see some things and splash around in the water.”
Besides providing an excuse to head to Hawai'i for several days, this tournament could fill two major needs for the Gaels. One is it should give a red-hot team a bit of extra exposure. Despite their hot start and solid wins over past NCAA Tournament teams, the Gaels have yet to garner any support for inclusion in the national rankings. In playing three nationally televised games against quality opponents, the Gaels will look to open a few more eyes and continue piling up the wins.
The tournament will also help prepare the team for the intense, hard-fought games that are sure to await them once West Coast Conference play begins Dec. 30 at Pacific. The Gaels begin WCC play with three straight road games, including a Jan. 2 trip to Gonzaga, and playing three tough tournament games away from the friendly confines of McKeon Pavilion should provide good preparation to begin the conference slate.
Awaiting Saint Mary's once it gets to Hawai'i is a tough SEC foe in South Carolina. The Gamecocks are 2-5 after a loss to USC Upstate on Thursday, but head coach Frank Martin will have his team hungry for more once it gets takes the court against the Gaels.