LAS VEGAS – For all the talk about the addition of traditional power BYU and the chatter about the West Coast Conference being the best it has been in a long time, the regular-season race still came down to Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s.
Just like it has the last eight seasons. The Gaels put an end to Gonzaga’s 11-year run of titles.
For all the talk about four or five teams having legitimate shots at winning the WCC men’s basketball tournament title, it, too, will come down to Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s.
Just like it has the last four seasons.
Both teams appear to be locks for the NCAA tournament and tonight’s winner at the Orleans Arena will earn an automatic berth. Gonzaga (25-5) and Saint Mary’s (26-5) split during the regular season, both winning by comfortable margins on their home floors.
“We have a lot of respect for them,” Gonzaga junior forward Elias Harris said. “It’s going to be a good one. It’s nice to have a day off (Sunday). We can use it.”
The second-seeded Bulldogs had one of their best performances of the season Saturday, routing No. 3 BYU 77-58 behind Kevin Pangos’ 30 points. No. 1 Saint Mary’s came from behind to defeat No. 5 San Francisco 83-78.
“They’ve done a great job of winning games,” GU coach Mark Few said. “San Francisco was playing great coming in and they were able to beat them twice (the last two Saturdays). (Matthew) Dellavedova was the (WCC) player of the year so you have to start with him. Rebounding will be a big key and we have to get out on their shooters.”
The Gaels put five players in double figures against USF, led by Clint Steindl’s 19 points and Dellavedova’s 17 points and six assists. Saint Mary’s again played without guard Stephen Holt, who is close to returning from a knee injury.
“I think he could play physically, but I don’t think mentally he’s there,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “He hasn’t gone 5 on 5 yet. Our trainer has done a great job with him, but it’s not worth the risk at this point. We anticipate having him for the postseason and we’ll have another 10 to 11 days. He’s close.”
The Gaels endured a brief late-season slump and they’ve returned to their winning ways.
“The area this team has impressed me the most is they’re very consistent,” Bennett said. “This team brings a very good effort every night.”