March 8, 2009

Zags cruise into tournament final

By Greg Beacham The Associated Press
 
Jae C. Hong photo

Gonzaga’s Austin Daye is defended by Santa Clara’s Ben Dowdell during the first half of their seminfinal match during the West Coast Conference men’s tournament in Las Vegas today.
(Full-size photo)

LAS VEGAS — Austin Daye scored a career-high 28 points, Micah Downs hit four 3-pointers, and No. 14 Gonzaga rolled into another West Coast Conference tournament final, beating Santa Clara 94-59 in the semifinals Sunday night.

Downs scored 18 points and Jeremy Pargo had 16 for the top-seeded Zags (25-5), whose 17-1 run late in the first half opened a 22-point lead that took the suspense out of their seventh straight win over the Broncos (16-17). Gonzaga led by 40 points late, still shooting their season-high 13 3-pointers and throwing down alley-oop dunks well after the game was decided.

Matt Bouldin added 11 points and seven assists for the Zags, who held WCC Player of the Year John Bryant to 13 points and 10 rebounds for Santa Clara.

Santa Clara couldn’t compete without big help from its star, who had 24 points and 27 rebounds in the Broncos’ quarterfinal win over San Diego. Bryant needed two rebounds in the final moments to finish his 16th consecutive game with at least 10 points and 10 rebounds.

James Rahon led the Broncos with four 3-pointers among his 20 points, while fellow freshman Kevin Foster had 17 points.

After going 14-0 in regular-season conference play, Gonzaga next will meet the winner of Sunday’s late game between Portland and second-seeded Saint Mary’s, which has star guard Patty Mills back in its lineup five weeks after he broke his hand in a game at Gonzaga.

Gonzaga closed the first half on a run that included 13 straight points while holding Santa Clara without a field goal for the final 5:43. The Zags then held the Broncos scoreless for nearly 5 more minutes midway through the second half, taking a 30-point lead with 8:50 to play.

Daye scored inside and out, going 10-for-13 and hitting three 3-pointers. After Pargo scored 14 points in the first half, Downs added 10 in the second half as the Zags thrived with little help from leading-scorer Josh Heytvelt, who scored d just three points.

The Zags have won eight of the last 10 West Coast tournament titles, losing only to San Diego in the title game in 2003 and 2008, both times on the Toreros’ home court. With the tournament on a neutral court for the first time in its 23-year history, Gonzaga traveled from Spokane with a few thousand cheering fans packed into the comfortably snug Orleans Arena.

Gonzaga countered Bryant’s inside presence early on with seldom-used 7-foot-5 junior Will Foster, but the Zags’ strategy mostly was a group effort. Their aggressive help defense freed up Foster to score 12 first-half points, but the Broncos couldn’t keep up.

Gonzaga led 31-25 before starting its decisive first-half run, which included back-to-back 3-pointers by Pargo and another by Bouldin. The Zags blew the game open mostly without Heytvelt, who went 1-of-7 with four rebounds after getting a career-high 29 against Santa Clara last week.

Heytvelt didn’t score until hitting a free throw with 13:54 left in the second half, putting Gonzaga up by 24.

Bryant left the game for good after hitting two free throws with 1:49 left, getting hugs from his coaches and teammates who watched his transformation from an overweight, 6-foot-11 Bay Area prospect into an impressive low-post player in the past two seasons.

Golden State Warriors forward Ronny Turiaf was among the Gonzaga alumni in the stands.


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