MORAGA, Calif. -- The Orleans Arena proved to be pretty hospitable to the Saint Mary's men's basketball team in 2010. Gaels fans hope that trend continues in 2011 with a second-straight Zappos.com West Coast Conference tournament title.
Saint Mary's, by virtue of its WCC co-championship, advanced to Sunday's tournament semfinals and will play fourth-seeded Santa Clara. The Broncos defeated Loyola Marymount 76-68 in the tournament quarterfinals.
The game is scheduled for a 5 p.m. tipoff and will be televised live on ESPN2. There are a number of live coverage options, including radio on KFRC 1550 AM in the Bay Area, Sirius Satellite Radio, SMCGaels.com or WCCSports.com. A special live in-game chat will also take place on SMCGaels.com.
Last year's tournament champions, Saint Mary's enters Sunday's WCC Tournament semifinals with a 23-7 overall record and WCC regular-season co-championship. The Gaels clinched a tie for its first league title since 1997 Saturday with an 83-69 win over Portland to finish conference play with an 11-3 record for the third time in coach Randy Bennett's 10 seasons in Moraga.
The Gaels are the WCC's highest-rated team in the most recent Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) report, according to RealTimeRPI.com, and are listed by most experts as having earned an at-large position in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. However, the only way for any league team to ensure qualification into postseason competition is to win the WCC Tournament and earn the conference's automatic berth.
Saint Mary's compiled a 12-4 non-league record this season with wins over St. John's (15th in current RPI) of the Big East Conference, Mississippi State of the Southeastern Conference and Texas Tech of the Big 12. All four of the team's non-conference losses were to teams ranked among the top 25 in the current RPI: Brigham Young (#3), San Diego State (#4), Utah State (#19) and Vanderbilt (#24). The only home game of that group was against Utah State in the Sears BracketBusters game.
Statistically, the Gaels dominate the WCC charts. Saint Mary's leads the league in scoring offense, scoring margin, free throw percentage, rebounding defense, assists, steals, turnover margin, assist/turnover ratio and made 3-pointers. Despite one of the league's smaller facilities, the Gaels also own the second-highest average attendance in the WCC.
In the WCC regular-season awards, Saint Mary's claimed the league's Coach of the Year in Bennett and Player of the Year in senior guard Mickey McConnell. In addition, Rob Jones and Matthew Dellavedova joined McConnell on the all-WCC first-team and Stephen Holt earned all-freshman honors.
McConnell, a final 10 selection for the Bob Cousy Award and a member of the midseason watch list for the James Naismith Trophy, is the league leader for assists, 3-point percentage, assist/turnover ratio and minutes played. He is also third in the conference in scoring, second in free throw percentage, fourth in made 3-pointers and, incredibly, sixth in field goal percentage - easily the highest rated guard in the rankings.
Saint Mary's is 4-1 all-time in Orleans Arena, winning both games in last year's WCC Tournament and earning a 94-72 win over Mississippi State earlier this season in the Shamrock Shootout.