By Alex Crook | Staff Writer
They’ll still go down as the winningest team in Saint Mary’s history, but the Gaels’ ninth NCAA Tournament run came to close Saturday evening in Salt Lake City at the hands of Pac-12 champion Arizona.
The Gaels and Wildcats have traded preseason scrimmages in years past, so calling the Gaels’ fourteenth ever NCAA Tournament game a blind date wouldn’t be a fair assessment.
However, what’s fair to say is how yet another high-profile game involving Saint Mary’s came down to rebounding and a battle of the big men. The matchup between Jock Landale, and in this case, Arizona big man Lauri Markkanen, turned into the primary storyline in the Gaels’ 69-60 loss.
Landale—still in double-double form after notching another one in the first-round win over VCU—tallied teams-highs with 19 points and 11 rebounds against the Wildcats, champions of the Pac-12. The 6-foot-11 junior converted on his first five shots Saturday evening.
From the opening tip until halftime, Saint Mary’s looked like a group of underdogs on a mission. The Gaels controlled the tempo of the first half and held Arizona to 34.5 percent shooting through 20 minutes. However, a rebounding comeback allowed the Wildcats to turn a 10-point Saint Mary’s lead into a 30-29 game at the half.
In a game that could be seen as a tale of two halves, Saint Mary’s got the short end of the stick. Aside from Arizona winning the rebounding game 32-30, the shots that fell in the first 20 minutes for the Gaels all of a sudden stopped falling, even if the Gaels ultimately outshot the Arizona 46 percent to 45.
When Saint Mary’s tried to clean up their shooting in the final stages, the turnover bug still lurked, as did Arizona’s streak of 15-straight made free throws. The Gaels surrendered the ball 13 times against Arizona, tying their fifth-highest turnover mark all year.
Calvin Hermanson scored 14 points on 6-of-14 shooting for the Gaels to join Landale and Tanner Krebs in double-digit scoring, while Joe Rahon ended his final game at Saint Mary’s with a game-high eight assists.