SAN DIEGO – The last obstacle in Gonzaga’s pursuit of another West Coast Conference men’s basketball championship is the same team that helped make it possible.
That team is San Diego, where Gonzaga will play on Saturday.
San Diego’s upset win over Saint Mary’s last week brought the Gaels within reach of the Bulldogs, who knocked off Saint Mary’s in overtime Thursday to create a first-place tie. While Gonzaga was positioning itself for a record 11th consecutive regular-season title – only UCLA’s 13-year reign in the Pac-8/10 from 1967-79 is longer in NCAA Division I history – the Toreros were giving Portland fits before falling 65-61. Gonzaga is tied with Connecticut (1951-60, Yankee Conference) and UNLV (1983-92, Big West) for the second-longest streak.
“San Diego is a bigger championship game than this one was,” center Rob Sacre said following Thursday’s win.
Gonzaga (20-9, 10-3 WCC), which has won at least 20 games in 14 straight seasons and 17 of the last 18, crushed San Diego 86-53 in Spokane last month to launch its current seven-game conference winning streak. Sam Dower poured in a career-high 27 points to fuel the rout.
San Diego (6-22, 2-11) and Loyola Marymount are tied for last place in the conference. The Toreros have limited six straight WCC foes between 61 and 70 points, and it took overtime for Pepperdine to reach 70. Gonzaga hasn’t cracked the 70-point barrier in its last four games at the Jenny Craig Pavilion. Former Bulldogs assistant Billy Grier is 55-73 is in his fourth season as USD head coach.
“We talked about it afterward,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. “Our guys were excited to get out of (McKeon Pavilion) with a win, but they know that now the one (today) becomes bigger.”
Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s have clinched byes into the WCC tournament semifinals. If the teams finish tied for first, Saint Mary’s wins the tiebreaker and will be the No. 1 seed. Saint Mary’s entertains Portland, which is battling Santa Clara for the fourth and fifth seeds, tonight.
Pepperdine is locked into the No. 6 seed.