Mills healed; St. Mary's adds game

Updated: March 6, 2009, 8:09 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

No team on the bubble was as active Friday as Saint Mary's.

The Gaels' Patty Mills, who broke his hand in late January, was officially cleared to play in the WCC tournament. In the meantime, coach Randy Bennett scheduled another regular-season game, two days before Selection Sunday.

Saint Mary's will play Eastern Washington on March 13 in Moraga, Calif.

Bennett said Mills, a sophomore point guard and Australian Olympian, was given the go-ahead by his doctor after a final round of X-rays Friday in the Bay Area. Mills was given an initial OK to start practicing without contact on Monday. He suffered a broken right hand against Gonzaga on Jan. 29.

Bennett said Mills would go through five-on-five contact on Friday and Saturday when the team arrives in Las Vegas. The Gaels, the No. 2 seed behind Gonzaga, get a bye to the semifinals of the tournament and could play No. 3 Portland on Sunday night at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

Mills, the Gaels' leading scorer averaging 18.7 points and 3.9 assists a game, was having the best game of his career against Gonzaga with 18 points, including six 3s, before he broke his hand on a drive past Jeremy Pargo. The Gaels were leading 39-33 at the half, but lost 69-62. Mills did not return. Saint Mary's was 18-1 with Mills, 6-4 without him.

Bennett said Mills has been shooting the past few days and "you would never know," he broke his hand.

"It's freakish," said Bennett, who added he wouldn't hold Mills back in practice or games.

Meanwhile, Bennett's decision to add a game next Friday was a unique move by a bubble team. Bennett was a game short of the maximum of 30 regular-season games. Eastern Washington was one of a number of teams that Bennett contacted with interest of playing. EWU, which finished 12-17 after failing to qualify for the Big Sky tournament, had an open game after it played at Hawaii. The NCAA allows teams to schedule another game if it plays at Hawaii.

The Eagles finished the season with a loss to Portland State on Feb. 28.

"Needless to say, they were really excited about it -- the whole team was," Eastern Washington coach Kirk Earlywine said in a statement. "That was one of the conditions that I had set in my mind for us to go play the game  all the players had to want to play and it had to be unanimous. I thought they would be, but I wasn't 100 percent sure. But they are excited and I'm excited."

Bennett said he isn't playing the game to convince the NCAA tournament selection committee the Gaels should be an at-large team if they don't win the WCC tournament. Instead, he said he wants Saint Mary's to play "well in the postseason," and playing another game with Mills gives the Gaels that opportunity.

Bennett said he would consider this every season because it breaks up a long stretch of inactivity. Saint Mary's played its last regular season game on Feb. 28. The WCC tournament is Sunday-Monday for the top two teams and the NCAA tournament begins March 19. If the Gaels are in the NIT, their first game would likely be on March 17 or 18.

"This will make it seem more normal to have a game in the middle," Bennett said. "Otherwise we're going nine or 10 days without playing a game."

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com