NO. 7 SEED MIDWEST REGION RPI 28
Last season Saint Mary's point guard Matthew Dellavedova read an article that discussed how some of the best players on the NBA's best teams, including Kevin Garnett and Steve Nash, also gave out the most high fives and fist bumps. A psychology major who is always looking for an edge, Dellavedova shared the story with since graduated backcourt mate Mickey McConnell. "It kind of went from there," says Dellavedova. Now the Gaels high-five and fist-bump one another so often that watching them, says Portland coach Eric Reveno, "almost reminds you of watching a women's volleyball game."
Surrounded by a force field of positivity—and with a bigger commitment to defense—the Gaels have achieved three goals they couldn't last year: their first outright West Coast Conference regular-season title since 1989, their third WCC tournament championship in school history and their fourth NCAA bid since 2005. Unlike 2010--11, when a late-season swoon scuttled their NCAA dreams, the Gaels recovered from a similar February stumble (losing three of four) to close the season with four straight wins.
Those victories came without starting guard Stephen Holt (10.4 points, 4.7 rebounds per game), who sprained his right knee on Feb. 15 but is expected to recover in time for Saint Mary's first-round game against No. 10 seed Purdue. "What made winning the [regular-season] title special was the adversity they handled," says coach Randy Bennett. "Last year we duffed it up down the stretch, and all that went into our guys' desire to crunch it out at the end this year."
Extra defensive work in the off-season and fall helped improve the Gaels' field goal percentage defense from just 44.1 last year to 42.7 this year, but the squad's signature strength remains making the extra pass. No one is better at that than Dellavedova, a mop-haired, 6'4" junior from Australia, who averages a team-leading 15.6 points and 6.4 assists. The WCC Player of the Year, Dellavedova draws raves around the conference for his leadership and basketball IQ. "He is all about the team," Reveno says. "He's very skilled and very tough, and he really just wants to beat you. He doesn't need to score points to do that."
Sometimes it takes just one more pass for high fives all around.