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Bennett builds consistent winner at Saint Mary's

  • Saint Mary's (Calif) head coach Randy Bennett watches his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against San Francisco at the West Coast Conference tournament on Saturday, March 3, 2012, in Las Vegas. Saint Mary's defeated San Francisco 83-78. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

MORAGA, — As the banners were unveiled celebrating Saint Mary's double conference title to kick off a Selection Sunday celebration, there were more fans on hand at McKeon Pavilion than the Gaels drew for games in coach Randy Bennett's first season at the school.

From two wins in a season to a pair of conference championships in a season. From an empty gym to overflowing stands that necessitate a building expansion. Bennett has created a consistent winner in what is widely considered to be one of the best program-building performances in the country.

He inherited a 2-27 team with no winning tradition, a small following, and a gym more suited to a high school than a Division I powerhouse and Bennett led the Gaels to five straight 25-win seasons and four NCAA tournament berths in the past eight years.

They beat Gonzaga for the outright regular season and West Coast Conference tournament titles this year, the first time the Gaels have held both titles in the same year, and thereby ended a 14-year run where the Bulldogs won at least one conference championship.

"Finally getting to the top, that was a breakthrough," Bennett said. "It was hard. I'm not saying we conquered it, but we finally got the upper hand for a season. We've been knocking on the door the last five years. Somebody had to kick the wall down. It finally happened and it was us."

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