Much like Robert Morris, not many Villanova fans have gotten a chance to see St. Mary’s play this season. Here’s a look at who the Gaels are:
1) Who are they?
St. Mary’s is located in the small town of Moraga, Ca. The Gaels play in the West Coast Conference, where they won the postseason title after finishing second in the regular season standings. Their head coach is Randy Bennett, who in nine seasons with the Gaels has compiled a 207-107 record.
The Gaels starting lineup consists of freshman guard Matthew Dellavedova, junior guard Matthew McConnell, sophomore forward Clint Steindl, junior forward Ben Allen and senior center Omar Samhan.
2) How did they get here?
St. Mary’s went 27-5 this season and had an 11-3 conference record, which gave them a second place finish in the WCC. It knocked off top-seeded Gonzaga 81-62 in the WCC final to earn the automatic bid. St. Mary’s has won six straight games and 12-of-14 overall. Against NCAA tournament teams, St. Mary’s went 1-2 against Gonzaga and defeated Utah State, San Diego State and New Mexico State. It also suffered a two-point loss to Vanderbilt.
In the first-round, St. Mary’s easily defeated Richmond, 80-71.
3) Who to watch:
The Gaels best player is senior center Omar Samhan. He is one of just two players in Division I this season to average at least 20 points per game and 10 rebounds per game. The 6’11” California native had 29 points and 12 rebounds in the team’s first-round victory. Against Vanderbilt, the only other major-conference team the Gaels have played, Samhan had 25 points and 19 rebounds. He could be the biggest test of the season for the Villanova frontcourt.
4) What the expect:
The last two seasons, Villanova has played strongly in the second-round, defeating Siena and UCLA. This year’s second-round opponent is perhaps its best of the three. St. Mary’s has a great combination of inside play by Samhan and outside shooting by McConnell, Dellaverdova, Allen and Steindl. Defending all of its weapons will be a real test for the Wildcats. They will need to slow down Samhan with Mouphtaou Yarou and Maurice Sutton.
The Gaels are a relatively strong defensive team, but this will be the best offense they have faced all season. If Villanova is going to advance to its third straight Sweet 16, it will need to connect on the open shots it missed yesterday.
For the first time this season, Villanova dropped a game it had no business losing – a home game against a struggling UConn Huskies team. A day after getting a leg up in the Big East race when Syracuse fell at home to Louisville, the Wildcats gave it right back. Here is a look from every angle at Monday’s loss:
- Mouphtaou Yarou: The highly touted freshman finally showed signs of life as he finished with 6 points 5 rebounds and 3 blocks in 13 minutes. After not playing much recently due to matchups, the Wildcats needed Yarou against Connecticut’s big frontcourt, and he did not disappoint.
- Antonio Pena: The five fouls were obviously bad, but keep in mind that when Pena was on the floor he was an offensive threat against the bigger UConn defenders. In just 18 minutes, Pena finished with 10 points.
- Scottie Reynolds’ Second Half: After scoring 14 first half points, the Huskies put the lockdown on Reynolds by double-teaming him. The result: Just four second half points. It’s hard to fault Reynolds too much when he had 18 points, but the Wildcats really needed him in this one.
- Corey Fisher’s start: The junior guard finished the game strong, but until midway in the second half he had just 5 points. With Reynolds being guarded tightly and no one else on the team stepping up, the Wildcats needed Fisher to attack the rim more. He eventually did, but it came a bit too late.
- The third scoring option: Once again, Villanova struggled to find any scoring outside of Reynolds and Fisher. It got 10 points from Pena, but he was limited all game by foul trouble. Reggie Redding had just 9 points, while Corey Stokes took just four shots and scored 4 points after picking two early fouls and playing 14 minutes.
- The bench: The Wildcats’ bench was outscored 27-17. After being one of the team’s strong points for most of the season, it seems almost everyone on the bench has gone into a scoring slump. Perhaps a swap of Isaiah Armwood and Stokes might be a good idea to add some defense to the starting lineup and some offense to the bench.
- Fouls: Villanova picked up four fouls in the first two minutes, and you could tell instantly this was going to be a tough game for the Wildcats to win. Overall, they committed 30 fouls in the game, sending UConn to the line 44 times. This comes just nine days after Villanova allowed Georgetown to take 50 free throw attempts. Kemba Walker, who had a career-high for UConn with 29 points, took 16 free throw attempts while the entire Wildcats’ team took 20. Some of this can be blamed on the referees but most of it falls on Villanova.
- Defense: The Wildcats did not look bad defensively in the first half, but the second half was a totally different story. UConn shot 66.7 percent from the field in the second half, making 10 of 15 shots. Part of the defensive woes was the fouling, and this was never more evident than in the final five minutes. During that time span, when Villanova needed crucial stops, not only did they not get those stops, but UConn attempted 16 free throws while taking just three shots. Not the way you want to play defense.
- Taylor King: When the entire student section yells, “No!” while you shoot, you realize that you are in a tough stretch. King was 0-for-6 , all 3-point attempts, against UConn and is now 1-for-16 in his last three games. Wright seems to like everything else he is doing, and it seems that King will get a chance to try to work his way through the slump.
- Maurice Sutton: Five very ugly fouls in just nine minutes. End of story.