|Washington-Saint Mary's (Cal) Preview|
For only the fourth time, a team in the Associated Press Top 25 poll failed to be included in the NCAA Tournament.
Southern Methodist in 2014 was ranked 25th, Utah State in 2004 was ranked 22nd and UNLV in 1993 was 19th when they were relegated to the National Invitation Tournament.
This year, No. 25 Saint Mary's joined that list. But the Gaels hope to perform better than the past three snubbed teams. SMU won one game and Utah State and UNLV bombed out in the first round.
The Gaels showed why they're the No. 1 seed in Region 4 when they demolished Southeast Louisiana 89-45. Instead of playing on the big stage, the tournament selection committee deemed the 28-5 Gaels not worthy of an at-large bid.
"I was a little worried about our guys," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett told the San Francisco Chronicle. "That was a jolt the other day, and I don't know how long you need to get over that."
To say the Gaels are playing with a chip on their collective shoulder would be an understatement. But now the competition gets much more challenging.
The Gaels welcome the Washington Huskies to McKeon Pavilion -- where Saint Mary's went 17-1 this season -- on Monday for a second-round NIT clash. After nearly blowing a 10-point lead in the final 44 seconds, the Huskies held on for a 77-74 first-round win over Boise State on Wednesday.
The Huskies (21-12) under first-year coach Mike Hopkins were led by Jalen Nowell and Matisse Thybulle with 25 and 18 points, respectively.
All-Pac 12 forward Noah Dickerson was in foul trouble throughout the night and was held to 13 points.
Now it's on to scenic Moraga, Calif., and one of the toughest road venues in college basketball.
"Saint Mary's is an incredible program. They're very skilled, great passers, great open-look shooters and very disciplined," Hopkins said. "The message to our players is we have a great opponent and great opportunity on national TV."
The fifth-seed Huskies will have their hands full with the top-seed Gaels, who set school record by with their 29th victory. Senior center Jock Landale is the undeniable leader. His leadership extends beyond 21.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.
Before the Gaels took the court against Southeast Louisiana, the 6-foot-11 native of Australia had words of advice for his teammates.
"I just said, 'Look, we've got to prove these guys wrong. If we don't go the distance in the NIT, they're going to keep thinking that Saint Mary's doesn't deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament.' ... I think that woke everyone up and I think that from then on, it was easy for us."
Landale proceeded to score 26 points on 11-of-15 from the floor. Landale also became the school's career scoring leader, passing Omar Samhan.
The Huskies can try to double Landale every time he touches the ball -- teams had success using that strategy in the regular season -- but that will leave the Gaels' sharpshooters open. Calvin Hermanson connects on 44.4 percent of his 3-point attempts and Jordan Ford makes 44.2 percent.
Point guard Emmett Naar, who holds the school record for assists, also shoots 40.7 percent from beyond the arc.
The Huskies have a good idea about how difficult it will be for them to win at McKeon Pavilion. Washington notched road wins over Colorado, USC and most-impressively, Kansas, this season.
"We're just going to go in, try hard and play our game," Huskies junior guard Dominic Green told reporters.
Monday's matchup will be the seventh all time and first since Nov. 22, 1999.