LAS VEGAS – A thrilling WCC basketball tournament championship game had been over for about an hour when Matthew Dellavedova and Mitchell Young jogged across the court inside a nearly empty Orleans Arena only to be stopped by a well-wisher.
The two Saint Mary’s Gaels posed for pictures at center court and by one of the baskets. They cut down the net for the trip home to Moraga, Calif. Dellavedova, appropriately, was carrying the 2012 WCC tournament championship banner.
Saint Mary’s, which put an end to Gonzaga’s 11-year streak of regular-season titles, doubled its pleasure with a pulsating 78-74 overtime victory over the Bulldogs in front of 6,826 on Monday. After earning their first outright regular-season title since 1989, the Gaels now own both of the WCC top prizes for the first time in school history.
“It’s pretty special,” Dellavedova said. “Gonzaga has dominated it for a long time. We really wanted the conference outright, and once we did that we wanted the tournament.”
Saint Mary’s (27-5) captured the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and boosted its chances of remaining fairly close to home (Portland will host first- and second-round games). The 24th-ranked Bulldogs (25-6) have a strong resume and expect to join the Gaels in the tournament, but they could be facing a lengthy plane trip.
The Bulldogs pulled off a stunning comeback in the closing seconds. They trailed 68-65 after Elias Harris’ layup with 15.1 seconds left. Dellavedova was tied up by Mike Hart on the inbounds pass and Gonzaga had the possession arrow. On a broken play, Harris connected from 23 feet to send it to overtime.
Robert Sacre made two free throws and Gonzaga had its first lead since late in the first half. The Gaels’ Brad Waldow scored inside, and Jorden Page drove for an uncontested layup. Gary Bell Jr.’s layup tied it, but Dellavedova was fouled by Kevin Pangos as the two pursued a loose ball.
“It was a great ballgame, two high-level tournament teams going at it,” GU coach Mark Few said. “They stepped up and made enough big shots … to get it done. It kind of came down to a hustle play, a 50-50 ball, that kind of decided it.”
Dellavedova, the tournament MVP, made both free throws. Sam Dower’s bank shot from 6 feet was too hard, and Page added two more free throws. Dower’s basket cut the Gaels’ lead to two, but Dellavedova made two free throws with 6 seconds left to seal the win.
It’s the first time Saint Mary’s has defeated Gonzaga twice in a season since 1994-95.
“The stars showed up, the big players played well for both teams,” Gaels coach Randy Bennett said. “We have great leadership. People ask what did we say after (Harris) hit that shot? We didn’t say anything. It was good defense, they hit a tough shot, let’s play.”
Dellavedova, who hit numerous key shots to blunt Gonzaga comebacks in the second half, played all 45 minutes and finished with 22 points and four assists. Rob Jones, an All-WCC player who scored 10 points in the first two meetings with Gonzaga, had 18 points and nine boards. Page added 16 points and Waldow 13.
Gonzaga relied on its frontcourt with Harris delivering 22 points and 13 rebounds, Sacre adding 17 points and three blocks and Dower chipping in 14 points. Kevin Pangos, who had 30 points in a semifinal win over BYU, made his first two shots, then missed 15 of his last 16 attempts. He was 1 of 10 on 3s.
“They were denying me (the ball) a little bit,” Pangos said. “I had good looks, I just didn’t knock them down.”
GU made just 5 of 22 3-pointers. The Gaels were slightly better at 8 of 23, but they snagged several critical offensive rebounds in the latter stages to prolong possessions.
“They outplayed us on the boards and we made too many defensive mistakes,” Harris said. “Next thing you know they were up and making shots.”
Saint Mary’s made 44.4 percent of its shots and 14 of 20 free throws, including 6 of 6 in overtime. Gonzaga finished at 43.5 percent, but only attempted 11 free throws.
“They’re a great passing team and whatever help you give they exploit it on the ball screen,” Few said. “At our place we did a better job of being dialed into our coverages because we were switching it up. We weren’t as clean this time.”
Gonzaga 74 (OT)
Percentages: FG .435, FT .818. 3-Point Goals: 5-22, .227 (Harris 2-3, Dower 2-4, Pangos 1-10, Stockton 0-1, Bell, Jr. 0-1, Landry Edi 0-3). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 4 (Sacre 3, Landry Edi). Turnovers: 8 (Pangos 3, Harris 3, Bell, Jr., Stockton). Steals: 8 (Pangos 2, Harris 2, Carter, Stockton, Hart, Dower). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .444, FT .700. 3-Point Goals: 8-23, .348 (Page 3-7, Dellavedova 2-6, Levesque 1-1, Jones 1-4, Steindl 1-5). Team Rebounds: 5. Blocked Shots: 1 (Waldow). Turnovers: 12 (Dellavedova 7, Page 2, Waldow, Levesque, Jones). Steals: 5 (Jones 3, Waldow, Steindl). Technical Fouls: None. Halftime – Gonzaga 36, Saint Mary’s 36. A – 6,826.