Cougs vs. Gaels features Aussies galore

IT'S EASY TO UNDERSTAND Saint Mary's head coach Randy Bennett's disappointment at not being picked for the NCAA Tournament. While no one outside the selection committee can know for sure, all indications are that the Gaels were on a glide path to a No. 13 seed and a date with the Huskies until Mississippi State intruded on the bracket process by unexpectedly winning the SEC tournament.

That punched the Bulldogs' ticket for the NCAA regional in Portland and sent the Gaels off to the NIT where they will play the Cougars at 8 pm (ESPN2) Tuesday. The Gaels (26-6) are seeded second and the Cougars (17-15) seventh.

WSU senior center Aron Baynes should feel right at home playing the Gaels. Five Saint Mary's players hail, like Baynes, from the Australian Institute of Sports. They are Patty Mills, Carlin Hughes, Clint Steindl, Lucas Walker and Ben Allen.

It doesn't look like Baynes will spend too much time tangling with his countrymen, though. The Gaels' imposing center, 6-11 Omar Samhan, is from San Ramon, Calif. He's averaging 14.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per game this season. He also has a team-leading 64 blocks. Baynes this season averages 12.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, and has blocked 41 shots.

The Gaels finished second in the West Coast Conference this year to Gonzaga -- both in the regular season and the league tourney.

The Cougars are 114-52 all time against teams from the WCC, with most of those games being with Gonzaga. The Cougs played one WCC team this year -- Gonzaga -- and lost 74-52 in December. The Gaels lost to the Zags in each of their three meetings this season.

This will mark the first-ever meeting between WSU and Bay Area school. Saint Mary's, located just northeast of Oakland, is operated by the Christian Brothers and has a student population of less than 5,000. Among its most famous grads are Hall of Fame footballer John Henry Johnson, 1940s All-American running back (and one-time "Hawaii 5-0" actor) Squirmin' Herman Wedemeyer, and former San Francisco mayor Joseph Alioto.

If you're wondering, a Gael is a Gaelic-speaking Celtic from Ireland. (Editor's note: As Catholic college nicknames go, you have to give the manly nod to Notre Dame on this one.)

THE COUGARS WILL BE making their third consecutive postseason appearance for just the second time in school history. This also will mark WSU's fourth trip to the NIT, where they are 4-3 all-time. WSU has won at least one game in each of its three previous NIT appearances (1992, 1995, 1996). The Cougars' best finish came in 1995 when Isaac Fontaine and Mark Hendrickson led WSU to the quarterfinals, where they were upset by Canisius. In the 1996 NIT, the Cougars opened with a win over Gonzaga.


• Over the last three seasons, Washington State is the second-winningest team in the Pac-10 behind UCLA. WSU is 69-32 (.683) overall and 32-22 in conference action in that time. UCLA has the best three-year record at 90-18 (.833) overall and 44-10 in league play. Stanford is third.

• In case you missed it, Taylor Rochestie last week was named the Pac-10 Scholar-Athlete of the Year in men's basketball. This is the second straight season a Cougar has taken the honor, following in the footsteps of Robbie Cowgill.

• For a link to the entire NIT bracket breakdown, click here.

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