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Mike Lopresti | | March 13, 2019

How Saint Mary's shocked Gonzaga and danced its way to an automatic NCAA bid

Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett reacts to beating No. 1 Gonzaga

They just didn’t have an upset in the West Coast Conference tournament Tuesday night. They offered a glimpse into an alternate universe.

It wasn’t just that the No. 1 ranked team — no, not a team but a locomotive  — from Gonzaga was beaten by Saint Mary’s 60-47. It was how. If Gonzaga’s first 32 games of the season were from Venus, this night was from Mars.

The unstoppable Zags, who had been averaging 90 points per-game, with a season low of 67 . . . managed only 47 points. They had scored at least that many in the first half 12 times this season.

The steamroller that had blown through 21 games in a row, by an average winning margin of 30 points . . . was beaten soundly by 13.

The powerful, relentless offense leading the nation with a 53.6 percent field goal percentage . . . shot only 37.5 percent. Including — can this be correct? — 2-for-17 from the 3-point line.

The All-American Rui Hachimura, good nightly for a steady 20 points, reaching that mark in 19 games  . . . put up only six shots and scored nine.

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The model of efficiency as the nation’s leader in assist-turnover ratio . . . had twice as many turnovers as assists.

The all-hands-on-deck attack that had been averaging 19 assists per-game . . . handed out only six. 

The juggernaut that had trailed only 30 minutes and 28 seconds in 17 games against WCC opponents . . . was behind for good with six minutes left in the first half.

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The pack of shot swatters averaging nearly six blocks per-game . . . only got to two.

The king of the WCC that had won five consecutive tournaments as the No. 1 seed . . . . was shoved aside by a Saint Mary’s team it had beaten 94-46 a month ago.

In other words, yeah, that was something of a surprise. But not to the guys who did it.

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“We were told to pull off a miracle prior to today’s game by people who don’t know us,” Saint Mary’s Jordan Hunter said afterward. “We didn’t just pull off a miracle, we knew when we were going into that game that we were going to win it.”

There were hints there might be trouble Tuesday night. Since that 48-point walloping in Spokane, Saint Mary’s had gone 6-1, using pace and defense to control games, winning by scores such as 58-32 over Pacific, 66-46 against San Diego and 65-48 over Portland. The one loss? The rematch with Gonzaga, but that was relatively reasonable — 69-55, with the Zags ahead only 36-34 at halftime.

That night left the Gaels sensing a whiff of future opportunity.

“When we played them at home, it gave us hope,” coach Randy Bennett said, “because we were able to play with these guys, and that was our whole theme going into this game.”

Play with them? OK. But turn the accepted laws of the college basketball universe upside down? Who saw that coming? Welcome to March.

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