Glass slipper fits for 'America's team'

A couple of years ago, it was Stephen Curry and the Davidson Wildcats who captured the hearts of America with their tournament run that came within one shot of getting to the Final Four.

Two years prior came the stunner with George Mason actually advancing to the final weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Why not Omar Samhan and the Saint Mary's Gaels?

"I think we should be like that," said the 6-foot-11 affable senior. "We're America's team because we're hard-working guys. We're the first guys out to party and also the first guys to the gym."

"We're one of the whitest teams in America," added Gaels guard Mickey McConnell. "And we embrace that people don't think we're athletic and very good."

Samhan, McConnell and a team loaded with Aussies has now made an improbable run to the Sweet 16 after dominating Richmond in the first round and upsetting second-seeded Villanova on Saturday afternoon.

Samhan is the most engaging personality to hit college basketball since Joakim Noah for the two-time national champion Florida Gators in 2006 and 2007.

He never stops talking, but he backs it up.

Prior to the game, in the pre-game introductions, Samhan walked up to Villanova freshman Mouphtaou Yarou and asked the 6-foot-10 African if he wanted to chest bump.

Yarou looked confused but not nearly as baffled as he was a couple hours later after the Wildcats' interior players were completely dominated by Samhan.

At one point just prior to going to the foul line, Villanova guard Maalik Wayns and Samhan were engaging in some friendly banter. After Samhan made the free throw, he looked over to Wayns and said, "You got busted by a big fat white guy" and smiled.

Busted was putting it nicely.

Samhan carved 'Nova up to the tune of 32 points and seven rebounds. He made 13 of 16 shots from the field, which followed up a 29-point, 12-rebound effort in the 80-71 win over Richmond.

"You're supposed to be diplomatic," Samhan said following the 75-68 victory over 'Nova. "But this was the best win ever. You can quote me. Omar Samhan said it's the best win ever for Saint Mary's."

It's difficult to argue since the only other Gaels team that advanced was back in 1959 when there were just 23 teams in the field.

This was all supposed to come a year ago for Randy Bennett and the Gaels. That's when they still had star Australian guard Patty Mills and a quality supporting cast that included Samhan in the middle and Diamon Simpson.

But Mills suffered a broken hand after a 21-1 start, and the next thing the Gaels knew, they were NIT-bound.

The window was thought to be sliding shut for the small school in Moraga, Calif., with an undergrad enrollment of just 2,514 students.

Mills left a couple years early for the NBA, and five seniors graduated.

It was Samhan and, as someone said prior to the season, a bunch of dwarfs.

Well, Samhan and the dwarfs are pretty darn good. They just won their 28th game of the season, but if not for a WCC tournament title that earned them the automatic bid, the Gaels may have been headed back to the NIT due to a lack of "resume" wins.

"You wouldn't have known," Bennett said about this year's success. "Who'd have thunk it?

"It's special."

There are two guards who can handle the ball in McConnell and Australian freshman Matthew Dellavedova. Another Aussie, forward Ben Allen, has reinvented himself after transferring in from Indiana.

They share the ball, have shooters all over the court and boast the big man down low to control the paint.

Villanova didn't know what to do. Double-team Samhan and give it uncontested perimeter looks or get abused one-on-one by the ferocious big man.

"Either double-down or leave our shooters open," Allen said. "Tough to decide."

Saint Mary's controlled much of the game against Villanova, but the Wildcats came back and tied it at 65 with 1:35 left on a pair of Corey Fisher free throws.

On the next possession, it was McConnell, who initially signed with New Mexico but never played for the Lobos because of the coaching change when Steve Alford took over, made arguably the biggest shot in the history of the program.

McConnell banked in a 3-pointer from the left side with 1:18 remaining.

"Yeah. Definitely," smiled McConell when answering whether he intended to shoot the ball off the glass.

Then he came clean.

"I threw it up and it went a little left," he said. "I'm just lucky the backboard was there. But we'll take it."

Now, Allen's father, who was supposed to fly back home to Australia, will remain another week and go to Houston where Saint Mary's will face the winner of third-seeded Baylor and No. 11 seed Old Dominion.

And Samhan's mother can keep that flight she already booked.

"I think my mom is like one of the Australians," Samhan joked. "She's like, I talked to Coach Bennett's wife and I'll meet you in Houston next week. Just win two games, I'll book the ticket. My mom had a flight to Houston since Selection Sunday."

"I'm glad we'll be there, too," he added.

So is the rest of America.