GAME NOTES: The Saint Mary's-CA Gaels will try to advance once again, as they take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament at Williams Arena.
The Gaels' 2013-14 campaign appeared to be nearing its end on Tuesday as they trailed Utah by as many as 13 points in the opening period of their first-road tilt. However, SMC took control after intermission, shooting 65.2 percent from the floor in the second period en route to a 70-58 victory. This is the seventh consecutive postseason appearance for the Gaels, which is the longest active streak by any West Coast Conference program. James Walker III led the way with 21 points on 6-of-8 efficiency from the floor, while Stephen Holt added 15 points. The win improved SMC to a 23-11 overall record, which includes a 6-5 mark in true road tests.
Minnesota was hoping to be included in the 68-team NCAA Tournament field after winning 20 games with a strength-of-schedule ranking in the top-10 nationally, but its 26-point loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament prevented it from returning to the Big Dance. The Golden Gophers defeated High Point in their opening-round NIT contest behind a career-high 21-point performance by Maverick Ahanmisi, who averages only 2.8 ppg. First-year head coach Richard Pitino is looking to guide the program back to New York City as Minnesota lost in the 2012 NIT Championship Game at Madison Square Garden in its last appearance in the postseason tourney.
This will be just the third meeting in history between these two programs. Both sides have won a game in the series
The Gaels hope they get a stronger showing in the second round by Brad Waldow, who paces the team with 15.5 ppg and 7.6 rpg. The 6-foot-9 junior forward and All-WCC selection was limited to 1-of-7 shooting from the field by Utah, but still led the team on the glass with eight boards. Holt is second on the roster in the scoring column at 14.9 ppg, while Walker III (9.8 ppg), Kerry Carter (9.5 ppg) and Beau Levesque (9.4 ppg) all contribute on a regular basis as well. The Gaels outrebound the opposition by an average of 4.2 rpg, and connect on 38.2 percent of their attempts from 3-point range.
If Ahanmisi is unable to repeat his breakout performance for Minnesota in the second round, Pitino has more than one viable option at the offensive end. Senior guard Andre Hollins, who has played in a program-record 137 games, is posting a team-best 14.1 ppg. DeAndre Mathieu contributes 11.9 ppg and 4.3 apg, while Austin Hollins chips in with 11.5 ppg and 5.2 rpg. In the victory over High Point, Joey King had 14 points and seven rebounds for the top-seeded Golden Gophers. Andre Hollins and Maurice Walker each finished with 13 points, while Austin Hollins added eight points and eight assists.
Whichever side advances will face the winner of the Southern Miss/Missouri matchup in the quarterfinals.
SMC seems to underachieve whenever it plays outside of Moraga, but it is highly unlikely that Waldow has another poor showing. However, Minnesota's backcourt may be too much for the Gaels to handle as the Hollins', Mathieu, Walker and now Ahanmisi form a very difficult group to defend.
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