The Gaels trailed by 17 at the 16:52 mark but chipped away throughout the half, getting to the foul line and getting defensive stops.
“With an opponent like San Diego, we had to fight for everything and we knew it was going to be a grind it out game,” said head coach Paul Thomas. “We didn’t get to the foul line in the first half, we didn’t rebound in the first half.”
Jackie Nared finished with 20 points, while Kate Gaze added 13 points and five assists. Danielle Mauldin added eight points with 11 rebounds and Sabrina Engelstad had nine points and three rebounds off the bench.
“We fought so hard and it was a great feeling hearing that final buzzer coming back from 17 down,” said Nared. “We always come together and try to find a way.”
With 20 points, Nared became the SMC single-season points scored leader with 602.
Both teams started slowly from the field as the Gaels did not score until the 16:54 mark. Nared hit a three-pointer to give the Gaels their first lead of the game at 5-4 with 16:30 left in the half.
With the scored tied up at 9-9, the Toreros went on an 8-0 run to take the 17-9 advantage and force the Gaels into an early timeout. Sabrina Engelstad stopped the bleeding with a big three-point play out of the timeout to cut the deficit to five.
Two-free throws by Nared pulled SMC within 21-20 at the 4:24 mark but USD responded with a three-pointer. USD ended the half on a 12-3 run to take a 33-23 lead at the break.
San Diego started the 2nd half on a 7-2 run to take a 17 point lead at 42-25 with 16:52 left.
The Gaels got five consecutive defensive stops and went 6-for-6 from the free-throw line to pull within 42-33 at the 12:58 mark.
Danielle Mauldin made her first hoop of the game at the 12:35 mark in the second half to pull SMC back within 44-35.
Nared scored at the 11:04 mark on a nice out of bounds play assisted by Gaze and SMC pulled within 44-38. With SMC trailing 50-44, the Gaels stopped the USD fast break and Danielle Mauldin was fouled at the other end and sank two to pull the Gaels within 50-46 at the 6:30 mark.
Shannon Mauldin pulled SMC within 50-48, splitting the defense at the 5:56 mark. Hayley Hendricksen scored on an out-of-bounds play to tie it and Gaze knocked down a 15 foot jumper to give the Gaels a 52-50 lead at the 4:47 mark.
Jackie Nared broke a 52-52 tie and hit a three-pointer to give SMC a 55-52 edge with 3:32 remaining.
The Gaels had to play the last three minutes with Nared, Danielle Mauldin and Engelstad with four fouls apiece.
Gaze sank two free-throws at the 1:38 mark to give SMC the 57-53 lead. SMC forced a turnover and had the ball at the 1:30 mark.
After USD scored to pull within two, Gaze was fouled with 42.9 on the clock and hit 1-of-2 free-throws and SMC led 58-55.
With the Gaels up 60-57, USD attempted a couple threes that were no good, but got the offensive rebound and was fouled with 3.2 seconds left. USD hit the first and missed the second intentionally. Nared had a heads up play and tipped the ball up and out-of-bounds as the clock expired. Officials ruled that there was 1.3 seconds remaining and USD inbounding the ball down two. USD got a good look but the shot went too strong off the back iron and the Gaels had the comeback win.
“I’m unbelievably proud of our team,” said Gaze. “We struggle against San Diego every year, they are a great team. It’s incredible to see my teammates step up and come back for the win.”
Saint Mary’s will take on Gonzaga on Monday at 12:00 p.m. in a WCC semifinal match-up.