- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 15, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) - Passed over by the NCAA tournament selection committee, Saint Mary’s didn’t even manage a top seed in the NIT.

The Gaels and playmaking guard Patrick Mills fell on the second line Sunday for the 32-team tournament, placed in the same bracket with San Diego State.

The other top seeds were Auburn, Creighton and Florida, which earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first team to follow consecutive national titles with back-to-back NIT berths.

Other notable teams that landed in the NIT included Davidson and scoring sensation Stephen Curry, NCAA tournament darlings last March, and Kentucky, which had been to 17 straight NCAA tournaments.

Saint Mary’s was likely one of the last teams left on the doorstep when the NCAA field was announced, even though it went 2-3 against teams in the RPI top 50 and had won five straight entering the West Coast Conference tournament.

“I was hoping common sense prevailed,” said Randy Bennett, the coach of the small Jesuit school near San Francisco. “Using common sense, we’re one of the top 34 (at-large) teams. This was the best team we’ve ever had, so it’s just disappointing to be in this situation.”

Mills broke his hand on Jan. 29 and missed a big part of the second half, rushing back for the conference tournament. After losing to Gonzaga, the Gaels played a late game against Eastern Washington trying to remind the committee what they look like with their star in the lineup.

It evidently didn’t make much difference.

“We did get our hopes up a little,” Mills said, “but there’s a great lesson to be learned on how to handle adversity and how to handle distractions and making the most of your opportunities.”

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