ALBANY – The Saint Mary’s men’s basketball team traveled 2,919 miles across the country with its cheerleaders, band and a group of fans for the Gaels’ first and second round NCAA Tournament matchups.
The small, private Catholic school of less than 4,000 students in Moraga, California, calls University Credit Union Pavilion, smallest in the West Coast Conference (capacity 3,500), its basketball home. Saint Mary’s won its first round game over VCU Friday, the first time in the program’s history that it won an NCAA Tournament game in consecutive seasons, and drew a second round matchup with UConn, a public school nearly nine times its size and only 134 miles away from Albany’s MVP Arena.
UConn fans are expected to make the short trip and fill in most of the 15,500 seats, but Saint Mary’s isn’t worried about the road feel.
“We’re going to make sure UConn knows who we are,” said Logan Johnson, a fifth-year guard for the Gaels. “Playing at BYU (a WCC opponent for St. Mary’s) helps you out in these situations – playing in front of 21,000 people that hate you – so we’re not worried about it. It’s a road game, and we’re happy with our fanbase that travels with us and they’re gonna be loud in there.”
UConn head coach Dan Hurley isn’t buying into any idea that the “home” court advantage will affect the Gaels .
“I think obviously the crowd tomorrow will help us play better, but I don’t think it’s negatively going to affect them at all because they’re such veteran players and they’ve been in many big spots before,” the fifth-year coach at UConn said after winning his 250th career game Friday evening over Iona.
Head coach Randy Bennett and Saint Mary’s came out to the east coast twice during the 2006-07 season, meeting the Huskies in Hartford about two weeks after losing an overtime game at Seton Hall. UConn won that game, 89-73, thanks to 19 points and five rebounds from Jerome Dyson – Todd Golden, the current head coach at Florida who UConn beat earlier this year, scored five points as the Gaels’ starting point guard.
“How that came about, I think we were looking to get a guarantee game, so we traveled out there,” Bennett said Saturday. “Coach Calhoun was there then. I…
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