No. 16 Saint Mary’s typically isn’t the No. 1 seed in the West Coast Conference tournament due to Gonzaga’s longstanding league domination.
But the Gaels own the top spot this season for the first time since 2016 and they open play Monday night with a semifinal clash against fifth-seeded BYU in Las Vegas.
Saint Mary (25-6, 14-2 WCC) and Gonzaga split their two regular-season meetings but the Gaels earned the top seed due to being higher in the NCAA’s NET rankings. At that time, Saint Mary’s was No. 7 and Gonzaga was No. 9.
The bigger quest for the Gaels is performing better than they did in 2016, when they lost to the Zags in the title game.
Saint Mary’s will ride their star backcourt of Logan Johnson and Aidan Mahaney while attempting to win their first WCC tournament crown since 2019.
Johnson, a senior, led the Gaels in scoring (14.7 points per game), assists (3.7 per game) and steals (48) and was named WCC Defensive Player of the Year while earning first-team all-conference honors.
Mahaney averaged 14.6 points and made 70 3-pointers while joining school legend Patty Mills (2007-08) as the lone Saint Mary’s freshmen to earn first-team All-WCC honors.
BYU certainly received an introduction in the first matchup between the teams, when Mahaney knocked down a 15-foot turnaround jumper with 0.4 seconds left to give Saint Mary’s a 57-56 road victory on Jan. 28.
In the rematch, Mahaney scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half as the Gaels posted a 71-65 home win on Feb. 18.
Mahaney grew up playing basketball with Gaels coach Randy Bennett’s sons, Chase and Cade. The three were on the same high school team but Mahaney did consider Pac-12 programs such as Stanford, Cal and Arizona before deciding on Saint Mary’s.
“I get why some people might think I was always coming here,” Mahaney told the San Francisco Chronicle. “But the truth is, I came here because it checks all my boxes. It just so happens that I’ve known the staff a long time.”
BYU (19-14, 7-9) defeated eighth-seeded Portland 82-71 and fourth-seeded Loyola Marymount 73-63 to reach the semifinals.
Rudi Williams scored 23 points in Saturday’s win over Loyola Marymount for his third 20-point outing in the past five games.
Williams, who averages 12.8 points per game, was recently moved back into the starting lineup after being a sparkplug sixth man for most of the season. Cougars coach Mark Pope said he wanted Williams’ experience in these do-or-die games.
“I do have this deep, deep belief that seniors are magic,” Pope said after Friday’s win. “Senior years are really hard because there’s so much pressure. The seniors who really put in the time and battle, they break through that and do things that are really special, like Rudi has done the last couple games and so many times this season.”
Williams said it doesn’t matter to him if he is on the floor at the outset of the game.
“I still know what I have to do for this team,” Williams said. “It just kind of shows the relationship me and Coach Pope have. He can start me, he can not start me — there’s no bad blood. We have the same goals.”
Forward Fousseyni Traore leads BYU in scoring (13.0) and rebounding (7.9). He was a second-team All-WCC selection.
No. 10 Gonzaga and San Francisco meet in Monday night’s second semifinal.
–Field Level Media