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Omar Samhan led the St. Mary's Gaels to an upset win over Villanova with 32 points.

Saint Mary's center Omar Samhan was out getting a bite to eat Monday when another customer began taking pictures of him with his cell phone.

"Playing basketball at Saint Mary's, you're not used to that," Samhan said.

That was before Saturday. Everything changed when the Gaels upset second-seeded Villanova to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

Saint Mary's has spent the past two days adjusting to uncharted waters. The 10th-seeded Gaels, playing in the South Regional, have become a national story after advancing past the first weekend of the tourney for the first time in the modern era. They play third-seeded Baylor on Friday in Houston.

On Monday, the school's athletic department put together a special session of media availability to accommodate the enhanced interest. A few dozen members of the press showed up.

"This is different. We're not used to coming to the gym with this many reporters," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "But the reality of the deal is we're going to have to play Baylor in Texas. They're going to have a bunch of fans there. They're a good team, very athletic. We have to be ready to play."

Saint Mary's players said they've spent the past two days fielding congratulations around campus and in the community — "If you have on any Saint Mary's stuff, people recognize you a little more," guard Mickey McConnell said — but the Gaels do indeed have a game to play. And considering nobody involved with the program ever has been down this road, the focus is on making sure the team redirects its energy toward basketball.

"It is overwhelming," Samhan said. "For Coach, it's overwhelming, too. That's the craziest part. None of us have ever been here. We're going through all of this for the first time. It's great and a lot of fun, but you can't get hung up in the moment. If you do, it will end quick."

  • Saint Mary's and Baylor hardly are identical basketball programs. They probably aren't even fraternal twins. But they have several things in common.

    They're in new territory: Both programs are making their first appearance in the modern era's Sweet 16. Baylor reached the Final Four in 1948 and 1950, when only eight teams played in the tournament. Saint Mary's reached the Elite Eight in 1959, when only 23 teams started the tourney.

    Stretch-run superiority: Saint Mary's has won 13 of its past 15. Baylor has won 12 of its past 15.

    The head coaches are sons of coaches: The Gaels' Bennett played for his dad, Tom, at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College. The Bears' Scott Drew is the son of longtime Valparaiso coach Homer Drew. The two never have coached against each other, but they're acquaintances from years on the recruiting trail. Saint Mary's and Baylor also participated in the 76 Classic in Anaheim two years ago.

    "We're familiar with them and what a great job they do,'' Drew said.

    The big men on campus: Samhan has been one of the best players in the NCAA tournament, with two-game totals of 61 points and 19 rebounds. But Baylor's 6-foot-10 Ekpe Udoh (33 and 12) is one of the fastest-rising prospects on NBA draft boards. The junior, who transferred to Baylor from Michigan, is projected to be a lottery pick this June if he leaves school.

    Bay Area News Group's Jon Wilner contributed to this notebook.