Saint Mary's Tops Santa Clara, 76-45

Jan. 12, 2008

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MORAGA, Calif. (AP) - Patty Mills glided past the defense for consecutive layins during one second-half sequence of a solid West Coast Conference debut.

Mills scored 16 points and dished out six assists to lead Saint Mary's over Santa Clara 76-45 on Saturday in the conference opener for the rival schools, ending the Gaels' three-game losing streak in the series.

Ian O'Leary scored all but two of his 16 points in the second half and grabbed nine rebounds and Diamon Simpson had 14 points and 10 boards for the Gaels (14-2, 1-0 WCC), who are expected to challenge favored Gonzaga for the WCC title. Saint Mary's, coming off its best non-conference showing since the 1988-89 team went 12-1, has won seven of eight with its only defeat during that stretch coming at then-No. 14 Texas on Jan. 5.

Both teams struggled on offense for stretches and were sloppy at times playing before a sellout, standing room-only crowd at 3,500-seat McKeon Pavilion, where hundreds of homecoming fans packed in for the regionally televised game.

John Bryant had 18 points and 11 boards for the Broncos, who are beginning a new era under first-year head coach Kerry Keating and lost for the first time in the last four meetings between the teams.

Mills shot 7-for-18 -- 1-of-9 from 3-point range -- but along with fellow floor leader Todd Golden made the big plays when it mattered. Golden had 11 points. Saint Mary's dropped its league opener last season to Santa Clara 76-69 and is only 4-3 in WCC openers under seventh-year coach Randy Bennett.

The Broncos (8-8, 0-1) lost for the fifth time in six games. Santa Clara swept all three meetings last season with Saint Mary's, including in the WCC tournament semifinals. The previous season, the Gaels went 3-0 in the series.

Yet this one was never much of a contest.

Santa Clara trailed 32-17 at halftime, equaling its lowest point total for a half this season after also scoring 17 in the opening 20 minutes of a 74-48 loss at Stanford on Dec. 19.

A matchup of two of the league's top bigmen in 6-foot-11 Omar Samhan of Saint Mary's and Santa Clara's 6-10, 295-pound Bryant wasn't that exciting.

In the opening two minutes of the game, Bryant had two rebounds but also committed a turnover and a foul and had a shot blocked.

The Broncos regularly double-teamed Samhan, who didn't score until the 2:57 mark of the first half. He was whistled for his third foul moments into the second half and took a seat and was out for good with his fifth on a charge at 10:49 -- and Saint Mary's went on a 25-5 run after his departure that featured four 3s and 14 points by O'Leary. Samhan had two points and four rebounds in 18 minutes.

Brody Angley missed his first four shots before hitting back-to-back jumpers to pull Santa Clara within 15-11 in the first half, just the fourth and fifth field goals for Santa Clara after Bryant made the initial three. But the Gaels responded with a 14-0 run that put them ahead 29-11 before Bryant's basket at 2:34 ended a scoreless stretch of 5 1/2 minutes.

Santa Clara committed seven of its 23 turnovers in the first 6 1/2 minutes, while Saint Mary's started 2-for-12.

Former Saint Mary's assistant Lamont Smith returned to Moraga on the other bench as a first-year assistant for Santa Clara.