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Simpson, Saint Mary's bounce back against San Diego

Feb 26, 2008 - 6:52 AM MORAGA, California (Ticker) -- Saint Mary's bounced back from its first home loss of the season to avenge its only conference defeat.

Tron Smith scored 15 points and Diamon Simpson had 15 and 11 rebounds as the 23rd-ranked Gaels held on for a 61-54 victory over San Diego in West Coast Conference action on Monday.

Todd Golden chipped in 10 points for Saint Mary's, which improved to 15-1 at home after losing to Kent State here on Saturday.

With the win, the Gaels (24-4, 11-1 WCC) kept pace atop the conference, still tied with Gonzaga (11-1), which beat Portland on Monday night.

The Gaels will go for a season sweep and their first conference title since 1997 when they visit the Bulldogs on Saturday.

Saint Mary's, which had lost to San Diego in the first meeting between the two teams, took a four-point lead into the locker room before opening up its largest lead.

Smith and Simpson each scored four points as the Gaels used an 11-2 spurt midway through the second half to give Saint Mary's a 51-37 bulge with 8:15 left to play.

But the Toreros (16-13, 9-3) used an 11-2 run of their own - capped by Trumaine Johnson's three-point play - to close within 53-48 with 2:37 remaining.

The Gaels did not make a field goal for nearly eight minutes before Simpson's layup with 39 seconds left, but Chris Lewis made a 3-pointer to cut the Toreros' deficit to 56-53 with 26 seconds remaining.

However, that would be as close as San Diego could get as Carlin Hughes and Golden each made a pair of free throws to help seal the victory.

Brandon Johnson scored 15 points to pace the Toreros, who shot just 33 percent (19-of-58) from the field, including 5-of-18 from the arc. San Diego also went 11-of-20 from the free-throw line.

The Gaels scored the game's first seven points but San Diego battled back and tied the game at 18-18 with 7:50 to play in the first half.

Saint Mary's leading scorer Patrick Mills was held to a season-low two points on just 1-of-3 shooting. The freshman did not attempt a shot until the final minute of the first half, but did finish the game with five assists.