Nov. 21, 2007
MORAGA, Calif. (AP) - Patty Mills' spectacular performance against Oregon gave everybody a huge glimpse of why the Gaels regard him so highly - and the Saint Mary's freshman sure spoiled Ernie Kent's return to his former school.
Mills had the best scoring output by a freshman in program history with 37 points, and also had five assists, two steals and only one turnover that came with 3 minutes to go, and Saint Mary's stunned the 12th-ranked Ducks 99-87 on Tuesday night.
"If he plays that way every night, he's a pro," said Kent, comparing Mills to Spurs star Tony Parker.
Mills led the feisty Gaels (4-0) to their first win over a ranked opponent in nearly three years in a rocking, sold-out arena. It was only his fourth college game and the effort tied him for sixth-best ever at Saint Mary's.
Students rushed the floor as soon as the buzzer sounded to celebrate the upset.
"Firstly, being a freshman coming from Australia, I've never been part of an atmosphere like this before," Mills said. "To win that, it's unbelievable and it's just a great start to the season."
Diamon Simpson had 18 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks and Omar Samhan added 16 points despite foul trouble for Saint Mary's, which honored Kent and his 1997 NCAA team that won the Gaels' lone West Coast Conference tournament title. This tiny school in San Francisco's east suburbs gave Kent his first head coaching job, and now the Gaels are 4-0 for the first time since getting five straight wins to start the 1993-94 campaign under Kent.
"We've been waiting for big moments like this, so it's no surprise to me," Simpson said. "This is definitely my first time seeing Patty go crazy like that. He was on fire tonight."
Kamyron Brown scored 20 points, Maarty Leunen had 17 and 11 rebounds, and Tajuan Porter 13 before fouling out for Oregon (4-1), which already had lopsided victories over two of Saint Mary's WCC opponents.
This marked only the fifth time the Gaels hosted a non-conference ranked opponent, and they put on quite a show.
The Ducks, meanwhile, became desperate down the stretch.
"The difference to me was our intensity level," Brown said. "We didn't come out ready to play and then we stayed at that level, thinking they would drop."
Mills made back-to-back 3s early in the second half and Simpson's putback at 16 minutes gave the Gaels a 56-46 lead. On the other end, Simpson blocked Malik Hairston on two straight Oregon possessions.
But Leunen's consecutive putbacks trimmed the Saint Mary's lead to single digits with 9:13 to play, 70-64, before Lucas Walker gave the Gaels a boost off the bench with four straight points.
Three of Mills' 3s were from well behind the line and he shot 10-for-20 from the field.
Mills, Carlin Hughes and Walker are three of Australians making an immediate impact - and they have become instant fan favorites, with students cheering "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi!" when they score. Men at Work's tune "Down Under" blares during timeouts.
Mills hit Hughes on a pretty pass for a layin with 5:48 left, then Mills sank two free throws 14 seconds later for an 80-68 lead. Saint Mary's didn't have its first turnover of the second half until Porter stole the ball from Hughes at 8:36 and finished with only seven.
The Gaels had lost five straight games against ranked opponents dating to an 89-81 victory over then-No. 11 Gonzaga on Jan. 8, 2005. Saint Mary's is picked to finish second behind the Zags.
"If we keep getting better and keep playing well, the rest of what comes with it will happen," Gaels coach Randy Bennett said. "The atmosphere was unbelievable. This is probably the best non-conference team we've played here during my seven years."
Kent's return had all the drama of a big-time game between a pair of unbeatens, even if it's only late November.
Mills made 5 of his first 7 shots and had two steals. Brown and Porter took turns guarding Mills, who in the opening 12 minutes had 13 points, two assists, two steals, a rebound and no turnovers. After his two free throws at 4:19 made it 32-27, he got his first break.
"He's quick with the ball, he sees the court well and he's a hard guy to guard," Brown said. "But there's still no reason for him to have 37 against us. I'm not knocking him. He's a great player but there's no reason for that."
Both teams came out shooting, with Saint Mary's starting 10-for-17 and Oregon 9-of-13.
A capacity crowd of 3,500 turned out at McKeon Pavilion with the same kind of energy typical of a rivalry game with Gonzaga. Seven pro scouts were on the list to attend the game, along with former Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings coach Eric Musselman.