Even though the Saint Mary’s Gaels are a premier team on the West Coast, Sean Miller has never faced them in his eight seasons with the Arizona Wildcats.
Well, at least officially.
“We’ve scrimmaged them over the last several seasons,” Miller said Monday at his weekly press conference. “And there’s nobody we respect more than [head coach] Randy Bennett, how he coaches and the team that he has. We have quite a few players that have played against them and know how tough they are.”
Arizona point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright is one of those players.
“They’re extremely physical, tough, smart,” the junior said. “They don’t beat themselves.”
On Saturday, the Wildcats (31-4) and Gaels (29-4) will finally play in a game that counts, as they are set to square off in the Round of 32 in Salt Lake City.
Saint Mary’s, a 7-seed, beat the VCU Rams in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament, while Arizona, a 2-seed, beat North Dakota.
The Wildcats scored 100 points against the Fighting Hawks, but also allowed 82 points, as North Dakota shot 46 percent from the field and from 3.
“We understand we have to sharpen some things up for Saturday against Saint Mary’s,” Arizona guard Allonzo Trier said. “And in order to beat them we have to be at our best.”
North Dakota notoriously plays at a torrid pace, but Saint Mary’s plays at the second-slowest tempo in college basketball.
“Saint Mary's is more deliberate, but they really execute,” Miller said. “And certainly shoot the basketball.”
The Gaels shoot 40 percent from 3 as a team, but are led by their big man Jock Landale. The 6-foot-11 center is averaging 16.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, while shooting 61 percent from the field.
Saint Mary’s is 14th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, per KenPom.
With Landale manning the middle, the Gaels are the top defensive rebounding team in the nation, tracking down 88.4 percent of their opponents’ misses.
As a whole, the Gaels rank 26th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency.
“We try to limit teams in transition,” said guard Calvin Hermanson, the Gaels’ second-leading scorer. “So a lot of teams that score big get a lot of transition buckets, and we make sure we get back on defense and stop transition.”
Saint Mary’s enters Saturday’s game with three of its four losses being to the Gonzaga Bulldogs (the fourth loss was to UT Arlington). The Gaels’ best non-conference wins this season were on the road against Dayton and Stanford. They also beat Nevada, which is an NCAA Tournament team.
Saint Mary’s has four appearances in the NCAA Tournament since 2010 and that year the Gaels reached the Sweet 16.
On Saturday, they’ll try to reach it again. Meanwhile, Arizona is trying to reach its fourth Sweet 16 in the last five years.
It’s safe to say this game is bit more meaningful than a preseason scrimmage.
“They have an extremely great coach that’s been around,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “This isn’t his first go-around. So they’re going to be really prepared to play hard and give us a run for our money. We gotta be a little more locked in for the beginning of the game to the finish.”
How to watch Saturday’s game
Time: Approximately 4:55 p.m. PST
Live stream: NCAA.com
Announcers: Andrew Catalon, Steve Lappas, Jamie Erdahl
- We take both a quick look and an in-depth look at the Gaels
- Read our North Dakota-Arizona game story, which was put together by Christopher Boan, who was in Salt Lake City
- Arizona’s freshmen, especially Lauri Markkanen and Rawle Alkins, dominated in that game
How Arizona and Saint Mary’s match up
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire