After missing a chance to secure the West Coast Conference title outright, Saint Mary’s hopes with some help, it can still claim a share of it.
The No. 25 Gaels visit Portland on Monday to wrap up their regular season.
Saint Mary’s (24-5, 11-2) has stumbled the last two weeks, dropping two of its last three, including an 88-76 loss at No. 24 Gonzaga on Saturday in the first matchup between two ranked WCC teams in the league’s 55-year history
Diamon Simpson scored 25 points and Patrick Mills added 18 of his 20 in the second half, but Saint Mary’s allowed Gonzaga to shoot 51.6 percent. The 88 points were most allowed by Saint Mary’s this season, well above its 60.3 points per game yielded in West Coast Conference play.
“We got down and we quit defensively,” said Gaels coach Randy Bennett, whose team gave up 50 in the second half. “We couldn’t get stops when we needed them.”
With a win Saturday, the Gaels could have clinched their first conference title since 1997, but now need a win in this game and a loss by Gonzaga to share the title. A win would also clinch the No. 2 seed in the West Coast Conference tournament.
“You can tell there is a lot of pain,” Mills said.
Mills, who leads St. Mary’s with 14.5 points per game, was 7-of-15 from the field Saturday after scoring a combined seven points in the previous two games.
Saint Mary’s will try to sweep the season series with Portland (9-20, 3-10) on Monday after beating the Pilots 86-49 on Feb. 2. The Gaels have won four of five against Portland and 11 of 13 overall. They also have won five of six games on the road against the Pilots.
Portland snapped a four-game losing streak Saturday with a 64-58 win over Santa Clara. The Pilots held the Broncos to just 32.6 percent shooting from the field to offset being outscored 25-10 at the foul line.
Robin Smeulders had 12 points and seven rebounds and Jared Stohl added 11 points. Portland squandered a 10-point lead with less than eight minutes to play, but held Santa Clara scoreless in the final 2:40 to win.
“It was frustrating that we went through a scoring drought in the second half, but I was proud of our resilience to bounce back,” coach Eric Reveno told the team’s official Web site.
Portland is 5-7 at home, and Saint Mary’s is the fourth ranked opponent to play there this season. The Pilots lost to Oregon, BYU and Gonzaga by an average of 23.3 points in their previous three home games versus Top 25 teams.