Saint Mary's doesn't appear stressed, but tourney outlook is grim

LAS VEGAS — Not long after his team's 75-63 loss to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference title game on Monday night, Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett emerged from the Gaels' locker room with his neck tie in his hand and an open collar.

Despite the damaging loss, Bennett looked like a man at ease.

At this point, for sanity's sake, it's probably best for him to have that mentality.

The defeat at the hands of the rival Zags was the fourth loss in their last six games. It puts them at 24-8 with an odd regular season game against Weber State coming up on Friday night, then 48 hours of uncertainty until Sunday's NCAA tournament selection show.

"I don't know what all (the selection committee) will look at," Bennett said. "We had a good year, we have another game to play, that's all that matters. I'm proud of our guys, we've done a good job, we just lost some down the stretch."

That poor stretch began with one of the ugliest conference losses suffered by any team in the country this season.

On Feb. 16, it was a foregone conclusion that Saint Mary's would roll into the Jenny Craig Pavilion and slam lowly WCC bottom-feeder San Diego. The Gaels were favored by 17 points and held a two-game lead in the WCC standings over Gonzaga with three league games left to play.

Saint Mary's, in turn, was stunned that night by the Toreros, 74-66, after blowing a pretty comfortable eight-point halftime lead. Just how ugly was it in terms of impact? That was only USD's fourth (and final) win this season against a Division-I foe and it gave the Gaels the a blemish that's nearly impossible to cover up on their tournament résumé, losing to a team that currently has an RPI of 317.

It's hard to tell if the shock of that loss was what sent Saint Mary's into a mini-tailspin, but it's obvious that it hasn't been the same team since then.

The Gaels then dropped back-to-back home games to Utah State in an ESPN made-for-TV BracketBuster, then Gonzaga.

The loser of last night's game knew that it would be likely sweating out the rest of the week

"It is what it is — You can't control it," Bennett added. "The only think we can control is how we play Friday night, so that's all we'll worry about. I have no idea what the committee is looking at or looked for, so honestly, I'm not stressed out at all except for the next game we play."

Friday's game is a no-win situation for the Gaels. A victory over Weber State doesn't bolster their profile very much, while a loss to a team with an RPI of 147 can provide potentially irreversible added damage.

As it stands right now, the Gaels have an RPI of 47 and a schedule that ranks as the nation's 104th toughest. They own only one win over an RPI Top 50 team (St. John's) and one victory in three tries against Gonzaga. After that, there's plenty left to be desired.

Bennett & Co. might not look like a stressed bunch or even hint that they are, but right now it looks like there are plenty of reasons to be.

Ryan Greene also covers UNLV and the Mountain West Conference for the Las Vegas Sun. Read his Rebels coverage and follow him on Twitter.

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