LAS VEGAS – The final score, Saint Mary’s 81, Gonzaga 62, was an appropriate reflection of the complete reversal from the last meeting. In Spokane last month, Gonzaga won 80-61 – the same point spread and nearly the identical score.
The Gaels turned the tables on the Bulldogs on several fronts in the West Coast Conference men’s tournament title game in front of 7,726 Monday at the Orleans Arena.
They defended better, holding Gonzaga to its second-lowest point total of the season. They were patient offensively and tagged Gonzaga with 10 3-pointers, several daggers coming with a tick or two left on the shot clock. And they were fully stocked with motivation, knowing a loss could leave them on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday, which is what happened after the loss to Gonzaga in last year’s WCC title game.
“We knew they were going to be hungry and have a sense of desperation with the NCAA tournament on the line,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, whose team appears to be a lock for an at-large berth, but might have lost out on a chance to remain in Spokane for the opening round. “Down the stretch in the second half, they really just outcompeted us.”
And that started with two players who have had little success against the 18th-ranked Bulldogs (26-6). Junior guard Mickey McConnell was scoreless in Spokane, missing all five of his shots and committing four turnovers. He had a quiet 10 points in the Gaels’ loss to GU in Moraga. He couldn’t miss Monday, connecting on four 3-pointers en route to equaling his career high with 26 points. He tossed in six assists and four steals for good measure.
“I tried to make a conscious effort to be more aggressive from the get-go,” said McConnell, who was voted the tournament MVP. “Luckily, the shots went in.”
McConnell broke down defenders off the dribble and with his high-arcing 3s.
“I got him in Spokane; he got me here,” Bulldogs guard Demetri Goodson said. “When I was chasing him in Spokane, he wasn’t really looking to score layups. Tonight he was scoring layups, floaters … he was tough to stop. It seemed like their whole team had more pop. It seemed like they wanted it more and it showed.”
The other bounce-back Gael was senior forward Ben Allen, who had 15 points combined in the first two meetings against Gonzaga. He struck for four 3-pointers and a career-high 20 points. He added nine boards and four assists, and his defense limited Elias Harris to eight points on 3-of-13 shooting.
“They (teammates) were looking for me on the 3-point line, creating penetration and they sagged off and I got open shots,” Allen said.
McConnell scored the game’s first seven points. Gonzaga tied it at 27, but Saint Mary’s (26-5) led by one at half, despite scoreless efforts from Omar Samhan and Matthew Dellavedova. Those two typically contribute 35 points per game.
GU twice took one-point leads early in the second half, but McConnell’s 3 with the shot clock about to expire gave SMC the lead for good, 35-33. Dellavedova hit a 3 and Samhan finally got his first basket at the 13:40 mark. He followed it up with another field goal.
SMC led 46-40 when Samhan was called for a technical foul for pushing Robert Sacre as players headed toward the sidelines during a timeout.
Gonzaga cashed in with three free throws, but Allen’s putback stemmed the momentum. Three-pointers by Allen, McConnell and Jorden Page expanded the Gaels’ lead to 70-54.
The Bulldogs made just eight field goals in the first half. They finished at 42.9 percent from the field, but they were unable to get their transition game going, in part because the Gaels’ took care of the basketball (eight turnovers).
“We just kept forcing shots,” senior guard Matt Bouldin said. “Whether it was one pass and everybody trying to create on their own, we kind of lost our identity in terms of moving the ball around and moving the defense around.”
There were breakdowns at the defensive end, too.
“Time of possession was key,” Few said. “They made us defend and defend. We were coming down and almost attacking at first sight every time, even though that was the message we talked about in the first timeout, the second timeout and the third and at halftime. They had our guys a little bit frustrated.”
Gonzaga will be without freshman wing Manny Arop for the rest of the season. He broke his left foot in the win over Loyola Marymount on Sunday and will have surgery Wednesday.
McConnell was joined on the all-tournament team by Allen, Samhan, Bouldin and Steven Gray, who led Gonzaga with 16 points.
Saint Mary’s 81, Gonzaga 62
Percentages: FG .509. FT .929. 3-Point Goals: 10-21, .476 (Allen 4-6, McConnell 4-7, Page 1-3, Dellavedova 1-5). Team Rebounds: 5. Blocked Shots: 9 (Allen 2, Samhan 6, Levesque). Turnovers: 8 (Samhan 2, Dellavedova 3, McConnell, Young) Steals: 9 (Steindl, Samhan 2, McConell 4, Page). Technical Fouls: Samhan.
Percentages: FG .429. FT .708. 3-Point Goals: 3-9, .333 (Olynyk 1-1, Bouldin 1-2, Harris 1-3, Hart 0-1, Gray 0-2). Team Rebounds: 4. Blocked Shots: 3 (Sacre 2, Olynyk). Turnovers: 14 (Sacre 5, Harris 2, Bouldin 3, Gray 4). Steals: 3 (Harris, Goodson, Gray). Technical Fouls: None. Halftime– Saint Mary’s 30-29. A–7,726.