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Champion Zags have loads of motivation

Mark Few: NCAA tournament ramifications today. (Associated Press)
Mark Few: NCAA tournament ramifications today. (Associated Press)

MORAGA, Calif. – With the WCC regular-season men’s basketball title safely in their back pocket, the Gonzaga Bulldogs move on to the next item: trying to keep a safe distance from the NCAA tournament bubble.

Gonzaga (24-6, 14-3) calls on rival Saint Mary’s (21-9, 11-6) at McKeon Pavilion to close the regular season. The Bulldogs will be the No. 1 seed in next week’s WCC tournament in Las Vegas, but that’s not the seeding they’re worried about tonight.

“It’s a rival game, it’s the last one in league, it’s going to be a great environment,” coach Mark Few said shortly after the Zags’ 70-53 victory over Pacific on Thursday. “And it has NCAA ramifications of some kind. I don’t know what, but it does.”

Certainly does. Gonzaga is currently projected as a nine or 10 seed, which doesn’t leave much of a safety net if it fails to win the WCC tournament. The Zags can boost their resume with a win over Saint Mary’s, 57th in the latest NCAA RPI, or creep closer to the bubble with a loss.

The Gaels enter on a two-game winning streak, including a 70-61 decision over Portland on Thursday. Saint Mary’s is 45-7 in home conference games since 2008, with four of those losses to Gonzaga.

Saint Mary’s is in fourth place, one game behind San Francisco and BYU.

Guard Stephen Holt and center Brad Waldow struggled in a 73-51 loss to Gonzaga in January but come into the rematch on a roll. Holt has scored 61 points in SMC’s last two games on 21-of-30 shooting. Waldow is averaging 14.5 points in his last four games.