Tony Gill has his game in order after a shaky start. Brad Waldow reports that his grill is good to go after chewing on a wayward elbow that sent a tooth flying.
The forwards with local ties bound into the NCAA Tournament with a new look, expecting to extend seasons as underdogs.
The 6-foot-8 Gill, formerly of Oakmont High School, leads No. 15 seed Pacific (22-12) against No. 2 Miami (27-6) in the East Region on Friday in Austin, Texas. The Tigers are coming off a Big West Conference tournament championship, with Gill earning the MVP honor. The junior from Cosumnes River College has emerged from a reserve to a starter who produced his best games of the season over the weekend.
Waldow, of Saint Mary's by way of Ponderosa High, has been similarly effective for the Gaels. But the 6-9 sophomore is nationally recognized these days for losing a tooth to an inadvertent elbow during a West Coast Conference tournament semifinal against San Diego on March 9. The video replay went viral for the gore and guffaws it created.
With a glazed look and blood pouring out of his mouth, Waldow attempted to hand the tooth to his coaches. Head coach Randy Bennett flinched and recoiled as if presented with a snake. Assistant coaches pointed at each other as if to suggest, "He'll take it!" in an amusing moment.
Late-night oral surgery repaired Waldow's mouth, and he was all smiles in Moraga on Sunday after the Gaels learned of their NCAA Tournament ticket, Saint Mary's third in four seasons. The Gaels (27-6) play Middle Tennessee (28-5) in a play-in First Four contest Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio.
The Gaels would have missed the dance if not for the grit of Waldow.
In the 69-66 overtime victory against San Diego, he had career highs with 23 points and 16 rebounds but ultimately had no takers for the tooth. Waldow wound up tossing it on the floor in front of the bench and continued to play. He is averaging 10.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and a half-dozen daily questions about his mouth. He has worn a wire brace across his upper teeth for extra stability.
"I probably would've pulled back, too," said Waldow, a biophysics major. "I saw the YouTube video. It was pretty gross and funny."
Gill hasn't lost any molars, but he has gained a new standing. An all-state player at CRC last season, Gill said he had to adjust to the four-year game and the management of his studies as a biology major. Gill offers the Tigers an inside-outside game and a fighting chance this week.
"When Tony plays really well, we're really good," Pacific coach Bob Thomason said.
Gill scored a season-high 20 points on 7-of-8 shooting, including 4 of 4 on three-point attempts, to lead Pacific past Cal Poly 55-53 in a Big West semifinal Friday, and he followed with 19 as the Tigers beat UC Irvine 64-55 in the final to secure an automatic NCAA berth. Averaging 7.4 points and 3.4 rebounds, Gill said he looks forward to sampling March Madness.
Pacific is in the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time - and first since 2006 - under Thomason, who will retire after 25 seasons in Stockton.
The Tigers want to win for their beloved coach.
"This is stuff you dream about as a kid, and it hasn't sunk in yet," Gill said Sunday after the Tigers learned of their tournament seeding and region. "I've been playing much better. I'm a lot more confident. This is all fun now."