Saint Mary’s to Square Off Against Purdue in NCAA Tournament
Hundreds Pack McKeon Pavilion for Selection Sunday
McKeon Pavilion was bursting with pride on Sunday as about 600 Gaels supporters turned out to share in the excitement of the NCAA Tournament’s televised Selection Sunday event.
All eyes were focused on the TV show, which was projected on a big-screen in the darkened auditorium. At 3:39 p.m., when Saint Mary’s ticket to the Big Dance was formally punched, the entire audience leapt to its feet. And they kept cheering as the announcer said the No. 7-seed SMC Gaels would square off against No. 10-seed Purdue on Friday in Omaha, Neb.
“We have a great connection with the community, and that’s what you see here today,” said Coach Randy Bennett.
Steve Fugale ’96, who owns Scott’s Seafood Restaurant, echoed that sentiment. “It’s a great school and a great program,” said Fugale, who brought another Gaels fan, his 11-year-old son, Ray.
After the announcement, Bennett, junior guard Matthew Dellavedova and senior forward Rob Jones took questions from reporters surrounded by a throng of TV cameras.
“It’s exciting to know you’re going to Omaha to play in the field of 68,” Bennett said.
He added that unlike last year, when the team was “on the bubble” and was passed over on Selection Sunday, it was a big relief to know in advance that it would be in the tournament after claiming the WCC Tournament championship. “I slept fine last night,” he said with a smile.
The championship trophy was on display at the front of the Pavilion, along with the plaque the team picked up when it won the regular season outright, setting a record for the SMC basketball program.
But Bennett wasn’t focused on past accomplishments. “Now’s the time to compete again,” he said.
Freshman Caitlin McLain, wearing a red Gael Force T-shirt, was excited to be at the Selection Sunday event. “It’s a great season to be a part of it,” she said.
After the program, all of the members of the 2012-13 men’s basketball team autographed basketballs and T-shirts for hundreds of fans.
Jen Phillips, who earned a teaching credential from Saint Mary’s in 1997, lined up with her two daughters and four other children. All of them had painted their faces in Saint Mary’s colors and symbols for the event, and they could barely contain their excitement about getting their basketballs autographed by the Gaels.
A.J. Rollins, who played for the Gaels’ basketball team that went to the NCAA under Coach Ernie Kent in 1997, brought his 4-year-old son, Aiden. “It’s his first Selection Sunday,” he said with a grin as he stood in line, “but definitely not his last.”
By Teresa Castle
Office of College Communications
Photos by Andrew Nguyen '15 and Teresa Castle
Last Tuesday, hundreds of supporters gave the team a rousing welcome home after it won the NCAA Championship Tournament.
View a slide show.