Back in 2000, the No. 1 single on the Billboard charts was Faith Hill’s “Breathe”, but I think it would be safe to say that Carlos Santana had the best year of any artist; “Smooth” and “Maria, Maria” were No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. Me? I was listening to The Marshall Mathers LP, reveling in every last word with the glorious angst of a high school freshman.
Gladiator beat out the likes of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Erin Brockovich for Best Picture, thanks in large part to Russell Crowe’s Oscar-winning performance. Kurt Warner had just led the Rams to a win in Super Bowl XXXIV, the Yankees were two-thirds of the way through their three consecutive World Series titles and I was thriving as a 5’11” face-up four on the North Haven High School freshman basketball team.
Why am I telling you all of this?
For the first time since 2000, Gonzaga will not own at least a share of the WCC title as St. Mary’s won the outright regular season championship with a 67-60 win at San Francisco on Saturday night. Clint Steindl led the way with 16 points while Rob Jones added 14 and 14 boards. Matthew Dellavedova looked like he’s gotten past an ankle injury by chipping in 14 points and six assists, but the Gaels were once again without starting guard Stephen Holt.
Ironically enough, USF was the reason the Gaels were in this position in the first place. The Dons knocked off Gonzaga last week at home, putting St. Mary’s back into sole possession of first place in the standings. The Dons also happen to be the reason that we all may be able to stop fussing about St. Mary’s and their late-season swoons.
As has been written too many times to count, the Gaels have developed a bit of a reputation for starting the regular season out strong, climbing in to the top 25, only to collapse down the stretch and find themselves in the NIT. It looked like this was happening against when St. Mary’s lost two out of three in league play and followed that up with a sound, 65-51 drubbing at the hands of Murray State in the BracketBuster game.
But after beating Portland by 27 on the road on Thursday, St. Mary’s now can claim a victory at better-than-you-think USF.
Not having a healthy Holt will be a problem for Randy Bennett’s club in March, but health issues are much easier to deal with when your team is the conference champion and headed for the NCAA Tournament.
Ironically enough, in 2000, it was Pepperdine that won the WCC. They finished the season with two losses, ending up one game ahead of second-place Gonzaga in the standings. That year, the Zags made a run to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.