MORAGA -- The best start to a season in school history got even better for the Saint Mary's College women's basketball team with a thrilling 79-78 overtime victory over rival Gonzaga on Saturday.
Danielle Mauldin provided the go-ahead points on two free throws with 1:13 left in the extra period, and the Gaels defense got necessary stops in the final seconds to preserve the victory at McKeon Pavilion over the No. 24-ranked team in the nation.
Mauldin finished with 24 points and a career-high 23 rebounds, and teammate Jackie Nared contributed 27 points in the West Coast Conference opener for both teams.
After going 10-1 in nonconference play -- including wins against Washington and USC of the Pac-12 -- the Gaels got their most significant win yet against a Bulldogs team that has won the last nine WCC regular season titles.
"I think it shows us where we're at from a national standpoint and shows we can really compete with great teams," Nared said.
Saint Mary's (11-1) needed to rally from a double-digit deficit and overcome 31 points from Gonzaga star Haiden Palmer to secure the win.
In a wild sequence to end regulation, Nared hit a 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds left to give Saint Mary's a 72-71 lead.
But the game nearly ended in disaster for the Gaels, who committed a foul on the ensuing inbounds play that sent Gonzaga's Lindsay Sherbert to the line. She converted the first free throw but missed the second, and the game headed to overtime.
"It was an unfortunate end to regulation, but we pulled it together at the end, which I think shows how good of a team we are," Nared said.
Saint Mary's also showed its resiliency, coming back after trailing by 10 points just after halftime and then by 11 with under 11 minutes left in regulation.
Nared's last-second 3-pointer was the Gaels' only lead of the second half.
"We were very inconsistent today," Saint Mary's coach Paul Thomas said. "The only thing we were consistent in was not giving up."
Mauldin, an undersized forward, was a key part of the Gaels' second-half comeback, scoring seven straight points after Gonzaga (10-3) took its biggest lead.
She also calmly sank what stood up as the winning points after a hard foul sent her to the floor late in overtime.
"I was in a lot of pain," said Mauldin, who finished with her ninth double-double in 12 games this season. "Then I just heard Jackie say, 'It's going to be OK, you've got this. You can't give up right now, just fight through it.' That's what I just kept bringing through my head when I was shooting free throws."
Beating Gonzaga, which came into the game as the No. 1-ranked team in ESPN's midmajor poll, isn't new to the Gaels. They've split their regular season contests with Gonzaga the past two years.
For Thomas, getting off to a good start in conference play was of greater significance than the Gaels' opponent.
"Being 1-0 at home is more important than beating Gonzaga," Thomas said.
Portland (8-4, 1-0 WCC) at Saint Mary's (11-1, 1-0),