After an impressive start to conference play, the Gaels find themselves nationally-ranked for the first time this season.
(@saintmaryshoops and @smcgaels)
By Ryan Ford
There is no other way to say it: The Gaels are on a roll.
When the most recent weekly update of the AP and Coaches Poll came out earlier this afternoon, Saint Mary’s fans were happy to see that the scorching-hot Gaels now sit comfortably in both rankings at 22nd in the country.
Randy Bennett’s squad finished last season ranked 20th after a 26-8 campaign, but losing several key pieces as well as the unknown projection of the freshmen/transfer additions meant that Saint Mary’s would need to prove themselves worthy of national recognition in the early portion of this season.
A 6-0 start, followed by a 3-4 slide, left the Gaels at 9-4 before beginning conference play in late December. Flash forward to today, and the surging Gaels sit at 18-4, having started 7-0 in WCC contests in the midst of a nine-game winning streak.
With Gonzaga’s upset loss to Loyola Marymount last Thursday night, Saint Mary’s also sits atop the West Coast Conference standings. In seven conference matchups, Saint Mary’s has gone undefeated with an average margin of victory of 21.5 points.
Point differential, one of the key stats that help analysts see just how dominant any given college program has been during their season, has been eye-opening for the Gaels all season long. In 22 regular season contests, Saint Mary’s has toppled their opponents by an average of 14.9 points, which puts them 9th in the entire country in that category.
The impressive numbers don’t stop there. Their average FG% differential (+7.2), 3PT% (+7.0), rebounds (+8.5), and assists (+5.8) all rank top-15 in all of college basketball as well.
During their current nine-game winning streak, first-year standout Aidan Mahaney has averaged 16.6 points per game, collecting West Coast Conference Freshman of the Week awards four times in that span. On the season, he leads the team in points at 15 a game while knocking down 43.2% of his triples.
Now that the Gaels have gained recognition for their dominant start to the season, they find themselves scheduled to be broadcasted nationally on ESPN in their next three contests. They travel to Provo, Utah to take on BYU this Saturday at 7pm, before heading back to Moraga for a two-game homestand against San Francisco and their first matchup against 14th-ranked Gonzaga.
Saint Mary’s comes up short again, leaving them with work to do before conference play begins.
(@saintmaryshoops and @smcgaels)
By Ryan Ford
After six straight victories to open the campaign, including a 5-0 start at UCU Pavilion to tie and break the school record for consecutive home victories, the Gaels have lost back to back games for the first time since 2020.
Saint Mary’s fell to the visiting New Mexico Lobos on Wednesday night, 69-65, despite a hot start that saw them take a 13-2 lead in the opening minutes. The Lobos responded, seizing the narrow lead at the end of the first half and never looked back.
This victory pushes New Mexico to 7-0 on the season, while the Gaels (who entered as 9.5 point favorites) fall to 6-2 and now trail San Francisco for the top spot in the WCC standings.
Here are some of the main takeaways from last night’s loss as well as surprises from early in the season.
Gaels Lose Another Nail-Biter
Saint Mary’s first loss of the season, a Thanksgiving Day clash with the Washington Huskies, ended in overtime after the Gaels made a huge push in the second half led by starting center Mitchell Saxen.
Saxen tied his season-high with 19 points, converting nine of his 14 shot attempts in the contest, including 11 in the second half and overtime. But the junior big man’s efforts weren't enough, as the Huskies pulled out the victory 68-64.
Six days later, the Gaels’ matchup with the Lobos ended in an almost identical score. And again, the Gaels failed to make the plays when it mattered most to secure the victory.
Senior guard Alex Ducas led all players with 25 points (matching his career-high), shooting 70% from the floor and knocking down all eight of his free throw attempts. But the rest of the team combined to score 40 points, making only 14 of their 37 shot attempts and converting an abysmal 47% of their trips to the free throw line.
In front of a nearly sold out home crowd, and following their first loss of the season, Head Coach Randy Bennett cannot be happy with consecutive showings of lackluster finishes and inefficient team play from a veteran group that has been in plenty of big games over the years.
Surprises: Stellar Contributions From First-Years Continue
By the time March Madness came around last season and the Gaels were competing in high leverage, winner-take-all matchups against some of the best teams in the country, Bennett was no longer giving any first-year players regular playing time. In fact, no underclassmen logged more than 10 minutes of playing time over the team’s final five contests.
But this year, the youth movement is in full force for Bennett’s squad.
Freshman guard Aidan Mahaney has continued his hot start, currently ranking third on the team with 12.9 points per game while leading the team in three-point scoring at an efficient 36.7% clip. Mahaney appears destined for a spot in the starting lineup sooner rather than later if he keeps this up.
Freshman center Harry Wessels has also earned rotation minutes as Saxen’s primary backup. The 7 '1, 255 pound Aussie has appeared in all eight games this season, and with fellow big man Matt Van Komen still recovering from a foot injury, Wessels has the opportunity to solidify his role going forward if he can continue to provide a punch defensively off the bench.
Takeaways from the Gaels’ impressive season-opening victory in front of a pumped-up home crowd.
(Tod Fierner, @saintmaryshoops and @smcgaels)
By Ryan Ford
For the ninth time in the past 10 seasons, Saint Mary’s won their season-opener. Matched up against Oral Roberts, the Gaels started hot and held on to beat the Golden Eagles, 78-70.
Opening their current campaign at home in the UCU Pavillion, Saint Mary’s extended a historic winning-streak following their undefeated record at home last season, having now tied the school-record for consecutive home victories with a staggering 19 wins in a row.
Expectations are high for the Gaels following a successful showing in last year's NCAA Tournament. With both familiar faces and new talent lacing it up for this season’s squad, here are some of the main takeaways following game one of the 2022-23 season.
Mahaney Lights it Up in NCAA Debut
Graduating and starring for neighboring high school Campolindo’s basketball team, Aidan Mahaney certainly had a lot of hype coming into this season.
A four-star recruit, Mahaney was the driving force behind a basketball program at Campolindo High School that went 28-2 his senior year, averaging 17.2 points per game while knocking down 38% of his attempts beyond the arc.
If Monday night’s game was any indication, Mahaney is on his way to becoming one of the driving forces for the Gaels as well.
Mahaney (pictured above, #20) scored a game-high 25 points in his Saint Mary’s debut, going 5/12 on three-pointers in only 26 minutes of game action. Clearly feeling it from the get-go, Mahaney outscored the entire Oral Roberts bench and provided a spark with poise uncommon for a freshman.
The veteran-filled starting lineup for Head Coach Randy Bennett likely won’t be changing anytime soon, but performances like the one last night from Mahaney will certainly make it harder for Bennett to not give the dynamic freshman more and more playing time as the season goes on.
Mitchell Saxen Looks the Part of Gaels’ Next Dominant Big Man
Entering his junior year, Mitchell Saxen had been firmly entrenched in back-up center minutes behind starter Matthias Tass. But Saxen showed the talent that made him a three-star recruit and the fifth-ranked center in the state of Washington when he locked up Gonzaga standout Chet Holmgren (eventual top-five pick in 2022 NBA Draft) in the home finale last season.
With Tass gone and no one standing in his way for playing time, how would Saxen play as a starter and focal point in the paint offensively?
Against Oral Roberts and their massive 7 '5 starting center Connor Vanover, Saxen filled up the stat sheet. Tied for second on the team with 32 minutes played, Saxen led all starters with 16 points while chipping in eight rebounds, but also showed his versatility by dishing out five assists and notching three steals in the contest as well.
Randy Bennett’s offense is historically at its best when led by a dominant big man in the middle, from stars-of-the-past Omar Samhan and Jock Landale to Tass last season. There is no question that senior Logan Johnson has shown the talent to keep up with the best guards in the WCC, but if Saxen can keep up this level of play offensively from the center position, the junior out of Seattle will make the Gaels that much harder to prepare for.
UCU Pavilion: Best Home Court Advantage in the WCC?
With Monday’s victory, the Gaels tied a school-record with their 19th consecutive home victory. The Gaels from 2009-2011 had also won 19 in a row at the then-named McKeon Pavilion, but numbers argue that this streak is already more impressive.
During this streak, beginning at the tail end of the 2020-21 campaign, Saint Mary’s has gone 19-0 at UCU Pavilion with an average margin of victory against non-conference opponents an unreal 29.2 points, and an impressive 12.1 against WCC foes. Number 18 was certainly the most impressive, when the Gaels upset number-one ranked Gonzaga by 10 points in a game they never trailed.
The Gaels were able to keep the magic going against Oral Roberts, racing out to an 18-point lead at half and holding on for the eight-point victory to tie the 2009-2011 squad's school-record.
“Really helped us, a lot of our guys were excited to play,” said Head Coach Randy Bennett after the game when asked about the home atmosphere. “Kinda picked up where we left off last year, we finished with some really good crowds. I was pleasantly surprised to see all the students and season ticket holders, it was a good crowd. It helped us win the game.”
That 2009-2011 team, led by legends Matthew Dellavedova, Omar Samhan, and current Saint Mary’s Associate Head Coach Mickey McConnell, went on to make the Sweet 16 in the midst of that run. This team has a chance to break that record Thursday night against Vermont, and etch their names in the school’s record books while making a statement to the rest of the WCC that their home court advantage is the best in the conference.
Starting a new school and a new sport during COVID.
By Madison Sciba
COVID hit during the last semester of my senior year of high school. I thought I was just getting an extra week of spring break, not losing prom and graduation. In March of 2020, I had no idea where I was going to go to college. A month into quarantine I decided on Saint Mary’s. It wasn’t my dream school choice, but a practical one. Saint Mary’s checked all the boxes of criteria I had for schools. Small school? Check. Close to home but not TOO close? Check. Not in a big city? Check. Gave me a scholarship? Check. And the final criteria, has a rowing team? Check.
I had been a swimmer my whole life, swimming on a club team for 10 years and for all 4 years of high school (even though both of my senior seasons were very short). After doing sports my whole life I knew I wanted to continue that in college, but I knew college swimming was just not my thing. So the question remained: what sport can I do? The answer became rowing. My cousin rowed at UCLA and recommended that I reach out to the team at Saint Mary’s and be a walk-on, just like she did at UCLA. So I did. I reached out to the assistant coach and was given paperwork to fill out and told to have a sports physical. Next thing I knew, I was on a team of a sport I knew barely anything about.
Because of COVID, there was no competition of any kind in the fall, so I decided to save money on housing and stay home for my first semester of college. When Jan Term finally came around I moved onto campus and was at my first practice a week later. Almost two months after seeing a racing boat for the first time, I was racing every weekend at a different racecourse on the varsity crew. No spectators were allowed and COVID rules were strictly enforced. Masks were always required unless you were actively rowing, frequently tested, and sanitized everything.
Sophomore year was vastly different. There were events on campus, no more required testing, and we finally had a fall season of racing. It was a whole new kind of racing, with different courses, different rules, and new experiences. Spring semester was where things really picked up. Masking was only required in classrooms and the library. Teams were finally able to do weight training without sweating through their masks and spectators were finally allowed. My parents were finally able to come and watch one of my races. It was a really big deal for me, I had sent photos and told them all about it but now I had people shouting my name from the shore.
All sports are finally getting the seasons and spectators we so greatly need. I cannot imagine how weird it must have been to go from loud screaming fans at basketball games to empty silence. The infamous Gonzaga game was just an example of that. When I told my family and friends that I was going to go to Saint Mary’s, everyone mentioned the basketball team and how legendary the student section was. Freshman year, I had no idea what they were talking about. No one was allowed at games because of COVID. When that was all lifted in 2022 there was a packed house, people practically on top of one another, ready to support. It was an incredible experience watching and supporting our team as they beat the best in the country. It also made me sad, thinking about what else I had missed out on my freshman year.
Women’s Rowing Second Varsity 8 Crew racing at Lake Natoma in 2022. (Image Courtesy smcgaels.com)
Basketball season is over, and there is no better time to keep the Gael spirit going by introducing ice hockey into the stadium.
By Eden Llodrá
As of late, the Saint Mary’s faculty has been talking about transforming the basketball courts into an ice hockey rink. “We have rugby and lacrosse, I don’t see why we shouldn't introduce another contact sport, it would be a perfect distraction during the wintertime blues,” said one of the Saint Mary’s sports directors. “It’ll get more students and locals out in the stands.”
An ice hockey rink at a D1 school in California would most likely be underrated and have high success rates, with our biggest competitors being on the East Coast. This would give Saint Mary’s a lot of press attention and popularity. It could also bring in more financial benefits to the college campus.
There is not much attention veered towards ice hockey, “I was watching the winter Olympics and it occurred to me that I didn’t see any Saint Mary’s representation,” said President Rick Prune. “Basketball is feeling a bit cheugy right now but hockey is very fresh.”
It is pretty important that Saint Mary’s stays up to date with the newest sports trends, to keep things exciting and receive more attention statewide and even nationally.
The students have said, “We don’t want Saint Mary’s to be hidden in the Moraga hills, we want to be on the front of the papers. We want to be able to tell people the town we live in without confused and estranged looks.” Ice hockey could bring Saint Mary’s the attention it needs to gain more recognition nationally.
Bringing ice hockey to the stadium could turn things around for the better, “I mean who doesn’t want to see a bunch of dudes slamming into one another?” one student said. The overall consensus seems to be that ice hockey would bring a sense of comradery amongst students and give more entertainment to the UCU pavilion.
Worrying new “Basketball Mania” sweeping the campus
By Joseph Amir
Visiting Sports Reporter and Virologist
A worrying new pathogen has emerged on campus, afflicting both young and old alike. This virus has infected our athletics managers, the employees at the Office of College Communications, the student body, and even our very own President Richard Prune. This pathogen has the unusual effect of causing the host to forget about any sport that is not men’s basketball, causing them to elicit confused looks or devolve into mumbling, lilting sing-song when asked about any sport that does not feature Tommy Kuhse. This story was first uncovered after a mass, super-spreader party off campus, after which multiple guests of the aforementioned event were scheduled to be interviewed about men’s rugby. When asked who was the standout player of the team, Jeremy Kuzak responded “Tommy Kuhse, of course!” The interviewer then gently reminded him that he was speaking about the wrong team and that he meant rugby, to which Kuzak replied “what’s rugby?” At this point, the interviewer began to explain how the sport of rugby was played when the subject became irate and belligerent, and was subsequently removed from the room by Public Safety.
This pathogen is believed to be extremely dangerous, having already endangered the life of the Saint Mary’s College women’s softball coach. They sustained impact trauma to their cranium after forgetting what sport they were coaching, rushing the batter and were struck in self-defense. Additionally, several students have reportedly savagely attacked roommates after these individuals have claimed to play sports such as “volleyball,” “baseball” or “soccer.”
In an unrelated development, it is said that as a result of the fallout from this virus, Coach Randy Bennett will have his salary increased from roughly $700,000 to $10 million per year. In a major restructuring, President Prune has announced that he is cutting all sports programs except for men’s basketball, eliminating the performing arts, communications, and business departments, and pouring their funding into the budget for a 2nd, bigger stadium that is planned to replace the Saint Mary’s Chapel and Oliver Hall. This stadium, as a result of back-door dealings made by President Donahue before his departure, will be named Wells Fargo Stadium despite receiving no financial assistance from that bank.
All the info you need about the upcoming SMC vs. SCU fight!
By Kiera O’Hara-Heinz
We all know that the first rule of fight club is not to talk about fight club, but this news is just too juicy to keep a secret. A recent undercover investigation has uncovered an underground fight club at Saint Mary’s College. After living in disguise for over a month, I finally have the proof to expose the extracurricular activities of the Lasallian Brothers at SMC, and finally clarified what exactly goes down in the catacombs underneath the school: between prayers, and teaching and advising responsibilities, the brothers have formed a bare knuckle boxing ring.
Known for their black outfits and white collars, community members may be surprised to learn that the brothers are stripping off their shirts and shoes to pound their peers.
Chloe McPhloe, a sophomore theology major and Mission and Ministry Employee witnessed one of these fight nights last month while she was helping to prepare for a Solidarity Supper.
“I was looking through the closet for some paper towels and I saw a huddle of half naked men,” McPhloe said. “I looked closer and I realized that it was the brothers and that they were fighting each other. They were surprisingly agile for elderly men. I think I saw a roundhouse kick or two.”
A group of business majors have found a way to monetize the athletic prowess of Saint Mary’s Ministry and have set up a series of fights with the Jesuit brothers of nearby Catholic schools. One such fight has been planned to take place against the Santa Clara University Jesuit Brothers on April 7th.
Brother Geoffery Teffley says that he is stoked for the upcoming fight.
“It’s one thing to fight my brothers,” Teffley said. “But to fight the Jesuit brothers will be the culmination of centuries worth of rivalry.”
Many students are looking to place bets on the fight, with many betting on the SMC Lasallian Brothers having a sweeping victory. Watch parties are also being planned at local businesses with a particularly large one planned at Roundup. Students looking to witness the event live can buy tickets to the upcoming fight on the athletics website for a small donation of $6.66.
Alumni and former basketball player Sie Chambers came back to Saint Mary’s as part of the 44 Days speaker series, telling his story of “finding purpose” in his career and postgraduate life.
By Ryan Ford
Sports Section Editor
Sie “Savage” Chambers came back to speak at his alma mater this past Wednesday, embodying the name he gave himself, “I’m a savage at everything I do and I wanted to embrace that.”
On February 23rd, Chambers spoke in front of Saint Mary’s students as the featured speaker in the 44 Days event, Embracing Pride and Purpose. The event followed a Q&A format, with Kinesiology professor and faculty co-chair for the BLM committee Robin Dunn facilitating the conversation.
Chambers attended Saint Mary’s from 2005-2009. While he went to Saint Mary’s originally as a standout high school basketball player, his mindset changed when he started working with social justice-oriented groups on campus, “When we think of the word savage we immediately think of negative connotations of primitive, uneducated people, but we also think of power. I think of fighting the system, fighting capitalism, fighting bureaucracy.”
Chambers was a redshirt player as a freshman and played on the women’s basketball team for overtwo2 years, but left halfway through his senior year season because his heart and soul were no longer in the game. “Sie went on to serve as Vice President of Diversity Outreach and Education, graduating with a BA in Sociology.”
During the 44 Days event, Chambers was asked how SMC is different now compared to when he attended the school, “I feel like during my time at SMC, the campus was becoming more receptive and starting to understand that this isn’t just a christian boy’s school anymore.”
Among many other occupations, Chambers currently works as a “community advocate, philanthropist, artist, yogi, coach, educator, plant-based chef, consultant, future farmer and 24/7 hustler.”
Switching his mindset from an athlete to an entrepreneur was hard, as Chambers had to figure out his identity without the community of being on a team, “Teams are forced families… sports were my outlet for being a people person.”
But Chambers was able to take what he learned as a dedicated athlete and apply it to other ventures in his life, learning life lessons from coach Paul Thomas, who has served as the head coach of SMC’s women’s basketball team since 2006, “I look at life competitively, strategies roll over from sports to business and life.”
When asked what advice he would give to current Saint Mary’s students, Sie “Savage” Chambers said, “I think it’s okay to set expectations and aspirations, but also just go easy on yourself and relax.”
(Image Courtesy Writer)
In Saturday’s home Rugby game the Gaels stood their ground and held onto the lead in both halves.
By: Eden Llodrá
The Gaels went into their game this Saturday ranked no. 1 in the league, so sixth-ranked BYU knew what they were getting themselves into. Nonetheless, the team brought their A-game against their competitor.
In the first half and at the eighteen-minute mark, SMC had scored two tries and BYU one, making it 12 to 7. In the first half alone, SMC got four tries and BYU got three, making the halftime score 24 to 21. It was tight enough that BYU could have made a penalty goal to tie up the game, but the Gaels defense held their advantage.
At the start of the second half, Storti got a try making it 29 to 21. Just as much as the Gaels offense was aggressive and found breakthroughs in BYU’s defense, they also held a strong defensive line which put pressure on the attacking team.
With thirteen minutes left in the second half, the Gaels were ahead 36 to 21, consistently forcing their opponents to make errors and lose possession. With six minutes left BYU scored a try, yet missed the kick, leaving the score 36 to 28. In the final minutes of the game, SMC had possession and Keane made the penalty goal, asserting their advantage and winning 39 to 28.
After the game, Keane, who plays the fly-half position, said “We were pretty proud of the results. Beating BYU is never easy, they've always been a top 10 ranked team in the nation,” adding that “looking forward, we hope to continue what has so far been a successful season.”
Reaction and grades for both teams following the biggest trade of the NBA season. (Image Courtesy New York Post)
By Ryan Ford
Woah. This may be the blockbuster trade of all blockbuster trades.
Rumored in the days leading up to the NBA’s trade deadline, which occurred at 3 pm ET on February 10th, the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers swapped disgruntled stars James Harden and Ben Simmons in a trade-only hours before the deadline, as first reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic (@ShamsCharania) and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (@WojESPN).
There is a lot to unpack here, so let’s break it down team by team.
What they acquired: Guard/forward Ben Simmons, guard Seth Curry, center Andre Drummond, 76ers’ 2022 first-round pick (unprotected), 76ers’ 2027 first-round pick (top-8 protected)
Instant Reaction: Only 13 months ago, the Nets pulled off the first blockbuster trade to acquire James Harden from the Houston Rockets to team him up with superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Many saw this as the new ‘Superteam’ of the NBA, and the tantalizing potential that this star power seemed capable of was obvious to everyone.
Now, it’s hard to view the move to get Harden from the Rockets as anything other than a failure. Over the last two seasons, the trio of Harden-Kyrie-KD played “a grand total of 16 games and 364 minutes together.” (Steve Aschburner of NBA.com) In those games, the Nets were 13-3, but they didn’t win a championship last season after injuries derailed Kyrie and Harden, and now the experiment will always be known as a big what-if.
On the bright side, the Nets were able to turn James Harden, who was clearly frustrated with his role in Brooklyn, into Ben Simmons, who has been an All-Star three times, an All-Defensive team member twice, and an All-NBA player once. He’s also only 25 years old, and is under contract through the 2024-25 season. Throw in sharpshooter Seth Curry and paint-menace Andre Drummond, and Nets fans have to be happy about the return, all things considered. Did I mention that they got draft capital on top of all of that? Grade: A
What they acquired: Guard James Harden, Forward Paul Millsap
Instant Reaction: I may be in the minority on this, but I think Ben Simmons is a great basketball player. But clearly, he and Philadelphia were not going to work long-term given everything that has happened since last season’s playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks.
Ben Simmons was essentially an empty-roster spot, an expensive one at that, having not played a minute for the 76ers since he demanded a trade in the offseason. Meanwhile, center Joel Embiid is in the midst of an MVP-caliber season, averaging a league-leading 29.4 points per game with shooting splits of 49.8/35.8/81.2. Despite Simmons’ holdout, Embiid has the Sixers only 2.5 games out of the first seed in the crowded Eastern Conference.
Add former MVP James Harden to the fold, and suddenly Philadelphia looks like a legitimate championship-contender. Granted, Harden hasn’t looked his best since the move to Brooklyn last season, and he is considerably older (32) and more expensive ($46,872,000 player-option for next season). But I think he will be more motivated than ever to silence his doubters and finally find some postseason success, and his fit alongside Embiid on paper is as good as any duo in basketball.
The Sixers are all-in. Their much-maligned GM Daryl Morey deserves credit for not settling and instead waiting for the best deal throughout this Simmons saga. High-risk but potentially high-reward. Grade: B+
Ryan Ford '23,