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Mills had been out of the Gaels' lineup since he broke two bones in his right hand during a game at Gonzaga on Jan. 29. While Mills underwent surgery, Saint Mary's lost four of five games before rallying with five straight wins to close the regular season.
Diamon Simpson had 19 points and nine rebounds, and Omar Samhan added 17 points and nine rebounds for the Gaels, who must hope the NCAA selection committee appreciates their potential enough to overlook a poor performance in their biggest game of the season.
"We'll just say some prayers on Saturday night," Samhan said. "God, I'd love to be in the tournament again ... but we wouldn't have to worry about it at all if we had taken care of business tonight."
Gonzaga's fans are used to traveling at tournament time, so they had no trouble filling the bulk of the seats at the Orleans Arena for the WCC's first neutral-site tournament. Saint Mary's was represented by several hundred Bay Area faithful, but they were decidedly outnumbered by the irascible Gonzaga supporters who booed Mills early and chanted "N-I-T, N-I-T" late.
The night got off to an ominous start for the Gaels, who were assessed a technical foul for dunking in the pregame warmup, although Bouldin only made one of two free throws. Saint Mary's then missed its first eight shots while Gonzaga built a 10-point lead in the opening 4 1/2 minutes, but Samhan helped the Gaels stay close.
Mills returned to practice a week ago, and he scored 12 points on 3-of-12 shooting in the Gaels' semifinal win over Portland, which sent them to their first conference title game since 2005. He missed his first seven shots against Gonzaga before making a tough layup while getting fouled with 1:51 left, but was 1-for-10 in the first half.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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