MORAGA, Calif. -- Patty Mills would have loved to be part of the twists, surges and opportunities for last-minute heroics in Saint Mary's latest attempt to knock off perennial West Coast Conference champion Gonzaga.
Instead, the injured point guard could only watch while a fellow Australian put a big fright into the Zags, but couldn't finish them off.
Matt Bouldin scored 21 points, Josh Heytvelt added 20 points and 10 rebounds, and Gonzaga (No. 21 ESPN/USA Today, No. 19 AP) survived Saint Mary's thrilling last-minute comeback for a 72-70 victory Thursday night.
Carlin Hughes hit two 3-pointers and made a layup in the final 48 seconds for the Gaels, who trimmed a seven-point deficit in the final minute to 71-70 on Hughes' wacky banked-in 3-pointer with 9.9 seconds left.
But after Bouldin missed two free throws to give hope to the rollicking sellout crowd in the Gaels' sweltering, 3,500-seat gym in the East Bay hills, Hughes dropped the ball out of bounds under defensive pressure with 5.2 seconds to play. After Jeremy Pargo hit one free throw, Hughes missed a desperation 3-pointer from midcourt at the buzzer.
"We had our chances," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "If we want to look for excuses, we can, but until we look at ourselves and say we can take care of the ball, that's going to happen."
Pargo scored 11 points for the Zags (18-5, 9-0), who barely solidified their hold on the conference lead after keeping Saint Mary's scoreless for nearly 5 1/2 minutes late.
Hughes' eight-point surge in the final seconds wasn't quite enough, even though Gonzaga missed four of six free throws in the final 30 seconds -- including Bouldin's clunkers and two more misses by Heytvelt, giving Saint Mary's a golden opportunity to steal it.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few credited Heytvelt's tough low-post play and his club's late defensive stops for providing just enough margin to survive.
"When they have Hunter banging in 3s like he was tonight, and Carlin, we felt like we had to go to something," Few said. "I was happy for Josh. He's putting together a really good senior year, and to put together a game like that against those two horses [Saint Mary's big men Diamon Simpson and Omar Samhan] is impressive."
Wayne Hunter scored 18 points and Hughes added 14 for the Gaels (19-5, 6-4), who lost at McKeon Pavilion for the first time this season. After an 18-1 start, Saint Mary's is 1-4 in its 4 1/2 games since Mills broke his right hand in the Gaels' loss to Gonzaga last month.
Simpson had 12 points and 15 rebounds for the Gaels, becoming the first player in school history with 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.
Gonzaga won at Saint Mary's for just the second time in the last five seasons. The Zags had won nine straight before losing soundly to Memphis last Saturday.
Meanwhile, Saint Mary's knows its NCAA tournament hopes are pinned to the high-scoring playmaker Mills' possible return for the conference tournament -- yet the Gaels nearly pulled off a remarkable upset without him.
Saint Mary's kept it tied at halftime and pulled even again at 60 with 6 1/2 minutes to play. Austin Daye put the Zags back ahead with a rebound dunk, and Bouldin hit a 3-pointer with 4:10 left to push Gonzaga's lead to 67-60.
The Gaels didn't score again until Hunter's layup with 1:18 to play, but Gonzaga also went scoreless for 3:15 down the stretch, setting up the wild finish.
Bennett wasn't pleased by the defensive contact on Hughes when he dropped the ball out of bounds near midcourt with 5.2 seconds left. The Gaels barely got the ball inbounds on the play, and Hughes lost control right in front of Bennett.
The Gaels were ranked 22nd and were seriously threatening Gonzaga's annual stranglehold on the WCC championship before Mills broke two bones in his hand.
Mills had scored 18 points in the first half before his injury, and Saint Mary's fell apart in the second half of the 69-62 loss. The Gaels relied heavily both on Mills' scoring and playmaking, and his absence was obvious as they struggled through the next two weeks with losses to Portland and Santa Clara, along with a win over San Francisco.
Hunter, a junior who redshirted last season after starting 24 games in 2006-07, scored 13 points in the first half Thursday night with three 3-pointers. Hunter rejoined the starting lineup last week after coming off the bench, and Mickey McConnell joined him for the second straight game -- but no combination of replacements could make up for Mills' skills.
Mills underwent surgery on his hand with hopes of returning for the conference tournament next month in Las Vegas.