February 17, 2011
Saint Mary's headed into a ho-hum away meeting with WCC cellar-dweller San Diego on Wednesday night knowing that with a win, the Gaels would clinch at least a share of the league's regular season title.
A few hours later, they left the Jenny Craig Pavilion on the wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble, losing 74-66 to the Toreros after being out-scored by 16 in the second half.
Randy Bennett's squad is still 22-5 overall, 10-2 in the WCC and still likely headed towards a regular season crown.
But will that be enough?
Though an RPI of 39 is decent, a schedule that ranks as the nation's 140th in terms of strength is not. The Gaels are just 1-3 vs. RPI Top 50 foes, and don't have a single marquee victory.
One thing they had going for them until Wednesday night was that none of their four previous losses (BYU, San Diego State, Vanderbilt and Portland) looked awful. But the Toreros, who after the upset are 6-21 on the year, have an RPI of 311.
Now, Saturday's made-for-TV BracketBuster home game against 25th-ranked Utah State becomes that much more important for Saint Mary's. It already is wildly huge for the Aggies, who also need a notable victory of any kind to beef up their résumé.
Even winning that, though, might not completely make up for the damage that was done on Wednesday night. Considering what was at stake for the Gaels and where both teams stood coming in, it was, without question, one of the most stunning results in a conference game this season.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati helps its cause by upsetting No. 16 Louisville
That's because it kind of did.
For the first time in five tries this season, the Bearcats (20-6 overall, 7-6 Big East) notched a win against a ranked opponent, taking care of the 16th-ranked Cards, 63-54.
The victory doesn't quite punch Cincy's dance ticket, as its five-game stretch to close out the regular season features two meetings with No. 9 Georgetown, a home game with No. 13 UConn and trips to face Marquette and Providence.
The upset also got the Bearcats to the 20-win mark for the first time since 2005-06.
Still, a closer look shows that outside of this one, Cincy's two best wins came against St. John's and Xavier, and their thin non-conference schedule has been subjected to plenty of scrutiny. Another big win sure wouldn't hurt.
Their outlook is good, especially if the defensive effort carries over consistently. Plus, 6-foot-9 junior Yancy Gates got himself out of coach Mick Cronin's doghouse for the night and provided eight points and six boards.
"Nobody's raining on my parade," Cronin said defiantly after the game. "We're having a good year. Whether anyone wants to recognize it or not, we are. I'm going to do everything I can to make sure my players enjoy it. And nobody's going to stop me from enjoying it."
OK, then …
The Bulldogs went south in a hurry late in the game, missed out on a golden profile-building opportunity and are getting closer to making contact with the bubble.
They fell, 64-56, after failing to score a field goal in the final 9:49 and allowing the Commodores to finish the game on a 24-3 run.
Making it that much tougher for the Bulldogs (17-8, 6-5 SEC) to swallow was that Vandy's three leading scorers — John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor and Festus Ezeli — were a combined 1-of-23 from the floor in the first half.
Given that trend, it's getting harder and harder to make excuses for them.