Mills Injures Hand as Gonzaga Slips Past Saint Mary's

Justin KundratCorrespondent IJanuary 30, 2009

Last night's game between Saint Mary's (18-1) and Gonzaga (14-4) was one of the biggest mid-major showdowns all season.

Both teams, who lead the West Coast Conference at first and second places, respectively, were undefeated in conference play and ranked in the top 25.

Even more importantly, this was one of St. Mary's few times on national television and provided a chance for us to see potential lottery pick Patty Mills face one of the best teams on the west coast. 

The Gaels led for a majority of the first half, with Mills shooting six of eight from downtown and scoring 18 points by halftime, at which point his team led by six.

Yet things took a rapid turn at the three-minute mark in the first half, when Patty Mills broke his wrist when he dove for a loose ball.

The sophomore guard from Australia had already matched his season average (18.7) and looked as if he was on his way to a 40-point game had he continued to shoot lights out.

Gonzaga had no answer either, but when Mills declared that he was unable to play in the second half, the Bulldogs took over and outscored the Gaels, 36-23, in the remaining 20 minutes, providing no chance for the Gaels to get back into it. 

From this game, we can see just how much of an impact Mills had on his team. Their shooting percentages went from 48 percent in the first half to just 33 percent in the second.

And Mills could do nothing but cheer his team on from the sideline as he watched their lead dwindle away.

The Gaels looked choppy on offense, lacking a go-to guy and a leader, and although senior forward Diamon Simpson contributed 17 and 12, there was no answer for Gonzaga's fast-paced offense. 

For stretches of the second half, Saint Mary's was unable to get the ball into the paint and struggled to get a good look at the basket in Mills' absence.

Gonzaga guard Matt Bouldin went on to score 17 points while three others also scored in double figures as they shot 17-of-22 from the line and forced 13 turnovers. 

Although the effort was there for the Gaels, the offensive fluency was not. They simply could not keep up in the eventual 69-62 loss.

So for now, in spite of Mills' injury, the Gaels will have to learn to play without him.

They go on to face the third place Portland Pilots on Saturday in search of a new identity without their star. These next few weeks will be tough as Mills is expected to miss up to four weeks and likely the next Saint Mary's-Gonzaga clash on Feb. 12.

All we can hope for now is that Mills will be 100 percent in March as the Gaels look to make a deep tournament run.