|Saint Mary's aims to keep momentum vs. WSU|
Saint Mary's has the look of a Sweet 16 contender. In the first five games of the season, the Gaels have won by 17 points three times and 18 and 19 points one time each.
And in the first round of the Wooden Legacy tournament on Thursday, the Gaels blitzed Harvard 89-71 in Fullerton, Calif.
In other words, the Gaels (5-0) are rolling, and despite a hiccup in the second half against the Crimson, have not let up.
Washington State easily has earned the moniker of the "Comeback Kids" so far this season. In its first-round game of the Wooden, the Cougars went scoreless for nearly eight minutes and were outscored 26-0 by Saint Joseph's. But Washington State overcame a 20-point deficit and defeated the Hawks 75-71 on Malachi Flynn's go-ahead 3-pointer with five seconds left.
The Cougars move on to a second-round matchup with the No. 21 Gaels on Friday at Titan Gym in Fullerton, Calif.
Washington State already had come back from a 20-plus-point deficit in the season opener to beat Texas Southern in overtime. After that game, coach Ernie Kent issued a prophetic statement.
"This game is probably a microcosm of what our season's going to be," Kent told the Spokesman-Review.
Understatement after four games.
In their second game, the Cougars trailed Seattle by 10 early in the second half before winning by 16.
Next, against Idaho State, the Cougars led by only four at half before going on a surge to win easily.
Robert Franks has been Washington State's most consistent player, averaging 18.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.
Kent raved about Franks' all-around play.
"I am glad people saw that part of Robo's game, because he is not just a shooter, he is a complete player," Kent said after the Idaho State game. "If we can get him to continue to come defensively, you know he has a chance to be really special."
Flynn's numbers (15.7/4.0/5.3) aren't too far off of Franks' line. Toss in Carter Skaggs' 13.7 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, and the Cougars boast plenty of firepower to match up with many teams.
Few teams have a player like Jock Landale, Saint Mary's 6-foot-11 All-America candidate. Landale scored a game-high 26 points while going 7-for-9 from the floor and 12-for-13 from the foul line against Harvard.
His play left a good impression on Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker.
"He's one of the better post players in the country," Amaker said. "He's very savvy. I think he's crafty in his ability to find cutters and uses angles and shot fakes very well. He's the whole package for a low-post guy."
The Gaels' game plan is simple: Get the ball to Landale in the paint.
"We're not very smart if we're not trying to play through Jock in the post," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett told the San Francisco Chronicle after the Thursday win. "We usually have a mismatch there."
Emmett Naar also poses a nightmare for Gaels' opponents. The Australian has been compared to previous point guards who have been in the program -- Patty Mills and Matthew Dellevadova -- and some think he is the best.
Against the Crimson, Naar flirted with a triple-double, compiling 11 points, nine boards and nine assists. He scored four consecutive points to clinch the win after the Crimson whittled the lead down to nine.
"I thought we played probably our best half of the year and then played probably about our worst five minutes to start the second half," Bennett told the Chronicle. "They could have laid down easy, but they didn't."
Bennett is well aware of Washington State's ability to come from way back and earn an improbable win.
"We have to learn from this," Bennett said. "Fortunately, we can learn through a win."