February 25, 2008 9:02 am ET by Kyle Whelliston
San Diego at Saint Mary's (West Coast)
McKeon Pavilion - Moraga, CA
10:00 PM EST
Considering that SMC's disappointing eight-point loss in the late-night BracketBuster battle with Kent State ended at around 11 p.m. Pacific time on Saturday, this is a pretty quick 44-hour turnaround. That's not a lot of time to recover from the worst shooting shutdown of the year, a 32 percent showing in a home loss in which star freshman guard Patty Mills was humbled like he hasn't been in his young college career. Mills was swallowed up by Kent's Jordan Mincy, held to five points on 2-for-11 shooting.
That one didn't count in the conference standings, but this one certainly does -- and it's a crucial game for the Gaels, which cannot lose here and at Gonzaga Saturday if they want to feel at-large safe going into the conference tourney (and trust me, they do). Tonight marks the return match from a Jan. 28 66-53 loss to San Diego in which the Toreros stifled SMC's potent transition game and gave Saint Mary's its first and only conference loss to date. Kent was able the same thing on Saturday, but the Golden Flashes had trouble containing long, muscular forward Diamon Simpson, who kept the Gaels in the game with his 24 points, most in considerable traffic, while no other teammate reached double figures. The 6-7 junior was a solid contributor in the first San Diego game with six points and eight rebounds, and he's starred against San Diego in previous years. He'll need to step up in case the guards fail again.
And there's San Diego (16-12, 9-2), which has managed to stay just a little under the radar because of struggles in the nonconference portion (although that Kentucky win looks better every day). But the Toreros could end up as the second team from the WCC to make it to the Dance. Remember that they host the tourney, have only lost to Gonzaga (twice), and would clearly have SMC's number if they are to complete the sweep this evening. In the case of a USD-Gonzaga final, could the Toreros stun the Sags again, like in 2003? And San Diego becomes even more intriguing because of the recent breakout performances by 6-6 freshman Rob Jones, who's become a valid third scoring option and collected four double-figure scoring performances in his last six games. That counts the team-leading 24 (on 10-for-12 shooting) that he contributed in a weekend win up at Santa Clara.
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