MORAGA (CBS SF) — As he recalls his team’s upset of top-ranked Gonzaga, a smile lights up the face of St. Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett.
The Gaels are still riding a high from their win over the former No. 1 Bulldogs in the championship game of the West Coast Conference tournament last week.
On Tuesday, they boarded a plane for their next challenge — a cross-country journey to a NCAA Tournament showdown with defending champion Villanova.
“It’s a high,” said Bennett of the emotions enveloping his team. “Put the fact that you beat the No. 1 team in the country on there, it was just … We didn’t see it coming, but we thought we could it, but you didn’t know until after it happened. It’s been a — I can’t remember being as excited about a single win. Not to say that’s our best win. It was pretty exciting.”
The win also earned St. Mary’s an automatic berth in the tourney — a relief after spending seven years on selection Sunday hoping to have their name called.
“It was nice,” he said of the automatic berth. “I can only say it that way. You just got to enjoy it. Our fans had a chance to prepare for the selection Sunday knowing that we are in. It was different. It’s the better way to go.”
And after several days to reveling in the attention of the Gonzaga upset, Bennett and his team realize its time to go back to work.
“Now it feels like there is a game coming and it’s time to get ready to play,” he said.
“It kicks in now that you have a game coming up and it happens to be the defending national champs that you are playing,” Bennett continued. “That’s sobering when you start thinking about that. That’s where we are at right now. We’re getting into game mode. We have to compete in two days. It’s been a great ride and we’ve had a lot of positive attention come from it, but now it’s back to we got to get ourselves ready to play.”
As for Villanova, Bennett sees a lot of similarity between the two teams.
“We’ve played them before,” he said. “We play similar — similar styles offensively. Four out, one in — a lot of on balls (screens). So I feel comfortable about that. We know how to play because we play the same way.”