Friday, January 9, 2009

Mills vs. Foster duel highlights St. Mary's victory over Santa Clara

St. Mary’s sophomore guard Patty Mills and Santa Clara freshman guard Kevin Foster have to keep meeting like this.

They put on a spectacular back-and-forth, high-wire show Friday night at a sold-out McKeon Pavilion in their first career confrontation.

Mills scored 31 points. So did Foster. Foster hit what looked to be a dagger 3 with just 12 seconds left, putting Santa Clara ahead 62-60. But Mills answered with one final trey, giving the Gaels a 63-62 victory against their archrival in both teams’ West Coast Conference opener.

“Patty hit a huge shot at the end,” Gaels coach Randy Bennett said. “Their guy Foster had an outstanding game. We needed to do a better job on a guy like that. We knew he was a good player.”

Maybe so. But Foster, a freshman from Katy, Texas, didn’t come into the game with quite the resume that Mills owns. Mills starred for the Australian Olympic team last summer after earning first-team All-WCC honors as a freshman.

“I wasn’t really thinking about that,” Foster said. “I was thinking about my own game and trying to win the game.”

Apparently so. Because with 12 seconds left, Foster took a pass in the right corner and launched a 3-point rainbow with a Gael in his face. Nothing but net. That gave Foster 31 points for the night and the Broncos a 62-60 lead.

St. Mary’s caught a break when a pass from Mills to Diamond Simpson in traffic wound up going out of bounds under the bucket off a Bronco with 4.7 seconds left. Bennett called a time out and, naturally, set up a play for Mills.

Using screens from Omar Samhan and Simpson, Mills broke loose beyond the arc on the right wing, took a pass from Mickey McConnell and buried a fall-away 3 with 2.6 seconds left, putting the Gaels ahead 63-62.

Fans at McKeon went nuts, of course. The Gaels’ unofficial theme song, “Down Under,” by the Australian rock band “Men at Work” blasted away, as fans sang along. And when Santa Clara’s James Rahon missed a desperation shot from half-court at the buzzer, those fans started chanting, “Pat-tee! Pat-tee! Pat-tee!”

Mills had missed a pair of free throws with 47.5 seconds left. And he was just 3 of 12 from beyond the arc before shooting his final 3. As the shot left his hand, Mills thought of his ailing aunt, Sharyn, home in Australia.

“When I let it go, I knew it was good,” Mills said. “That was for her.”

Foster wasn’t on the court for Santa Clara’s final shot, and he was in and out of the lineup late in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for the Broncos and fortunately for the Gaels, Foster’s left calf cramped up.

“Thank goodness,” said a relieved Bennett. “He might have had 40.”

Bennett might have been right. Foster was on fire for most of the night. He made 11 of 19 shots from the field, 5 of 9 from beyond the arc and 4 of 5 from the line.

“These guys know they go as hard as they can until they can’t go any more,” Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating said. “He tried.”

Foster used his quickness to get free for open shots, and the Broncos also took advantage of a St. Mary’s defense that was determined to stop 6-foot-11 center John Bryant.

“I was hot,” Foster said. “I made a couple shots. Coach Keating always said they’re going to come back to me if I made a couple shots.”

Mills had the scouting report on Foster. He knew he was good. But not 31-points good.

“We did a great job against Bryant,” Mills said. “I think we had a lot of focus on him. But then, out comes Foster. It’s hard to adjust, but to be a great team, you have to adjust. He got rolling. He’s very hard to guard.”

Grab your calendar and put an “X” on Feb. 7. That’s when the Mills and Foster meet again, this time at the Leavey Center in Santa Clara.

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