USF, having posted its highest West Coast Conference victory total since 1977, can realistically aspire to its first NCAA tournament bid in 16 seasons when it treks to Las Vegas this week for the WCC tournament. For Santa Clara, the prospects are more daunting, and the wait has been two years longer. March has been good to Saint Mary's, which has advanced to the NCAA tournament four times in the past six seasons. But the Gaels must overcome an uneven season and a jarring start to the month if they hope to position themselves for another NCAA bid. Coach Randy Bennett has coached 419 games for the Moraga school, and Saturday's 75-47 home thrashing at the hands of WCC powerhouse Gonzaga was the worst margin of defeat of his 13 seasons. "People say that happens," Bennett said, trying to explain the ghastly defeat. "It doesn't have to happen." Two days after the loss, Bennett still wasn't sure why his team failed to compete better. "There's not that big a difference between those two teams," he said. "As a coach, you're trying to figure it out. You don't always know." Bennett wasted no time trying to remedy the problem. He held practice Sunday and was pleased by how his team responded. "Sometimes at this time of year, guys' heads are elsewhere," he said. "That's not the deal. My guys have a really good attitude, they're trying." By finishing fourth in the WCC, the Gaels are on the same side of the bracket as top-seeded Gonzaga, meaning they would collide in Monday's semifinals. Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating, whose ninth-seeded team opens play Thursday against Pacific, laughs at the notion Gonzaga is more vulnerable than usual. "It speaks volumes to who they are that they go 15-3 (in the WCC) and people are thinking they're not that good. That's the standard they've set." Still, while no WCC team except possibly Gonzaga can expect an NCAA berth without the league's automatic berth, there is great balance. No. 7 seed Portland, for instance, boasts wins over Gonzaga and No. 2 BYU. Bennett believes there are several teams that could win in Vegas. He'll find out soon enough if his team is one of those. Santa Clara's Jared Brownridge, voted WCC Newcomer of the Year, has scored a freshman school-record 523 points this season, which puts him in some good company. With at least one game to play, Brownridge has the fourth-highest freshman point total ever among Bay Area men's players. The top five: 1. Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Cal, 1996: 590 points 2. Winford Boynes, USF, 1976: 542 3. Ryan Anderson, Cal, 2007: 539 4. Jared Brownridge, Santa Clara, 2014: 523 5. Todd Lichti, Stanford, 1986: 516 Is there a predictable road map to the NCAA tournament for the Cal and Stanford men, both swept last weekend in Arizona? It's probably no more complicated than winning twice this week at home against Colorado and Utah to reach 11-7 in the Pac-12. If you ignore the freakish 2011-12 season, in which regular-season champion Washington was denied an NCAA bid, 75 of 77 teams with at least 11 conference wins over the past 20 seasons have received NCAA invites. The Pac-12 was so poorly regarded in 2012 that four teams with 11 or more conference wins were bypassed by the NCAA. By comparison, the Pac-12 this season is rated as the nation's third-strongest conference by the RPI computer.