LAS VEGAS – The closest of the three Gonzaga-Saint Mary’s games wasn’t all that close.
Senior guard David Stockton matched his career high with 21 points and the top-seeded Bulldogs stifled the Gaels’ offense for the third time this season en route to a 70-54 victory Monday in the WCC men’s basketball tournament semifinals in front of 7,168 at Orleans Arena.
The Zags (27-6) moved into the championship game for the 17th straight season. They’ll face No. 2 BYU tonight at 6. No. 4 Saint Mary’s is 22-11.
Gonzaga held the Gaels to 51, 47 and 54 points in three blowout wins – Saint Mary’s second-, third- and fourth-lowest scoring games of the season.
“Plan A wasn’t always working, Plan B wasn’t always working but these guys stayed with it and found different ways to be successful,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “Saint Mary’s did a good job of slowing the pace down and really playing our bigs physical. The neat thing to see is we have other guys that can step up.”
Stockton, whose layup with 1.4 seconds left lifted GU past Santa Clara 77-75 on Saturday, put together perhaps the best stat line of his career: 7 of 13 field goals, 6 of 9 free throws, six rebounds, four assists, one steal and no turnovers in 27 minutes.
Gary Bell Jr. had success navigating the lane, finishing with 14 points. Sam Dower Jr. struggled from the field but buried all eight of his free throws and scored 12 points. He’s 23 of 23 at the line in the tournament. Kevin Pangos added nine points, Kyle Dranginis seven points and three assists and Drew Barham had five rebounds and two steals.
GU’s offense was efficient but its defense did most of the heavy lifting. Saint Mary’s center Brad Waldow started strong, scoring 10 points in the first half and the Gaels’ first basket of the second half. After the 15:36 mark, he was limited to four free throws and no field-goal attempts.
“Just more effort,” Dower said. “We talked about it at halftime to limit his touches and push him off the block. He likes to spin baseline and we tried to take that away.”
The Zags essentially took away Stephen Holt for the third straight contest. SMC’s second-leading scorer needed a late burst with nine points in the final 3:51 to finish with 13.
“On on-ball (screens), the guard would go over and the big was in center field,” Holt said. “When I would penetrate the defense would collapse and I would try to kick it out to shooters, but we only shot 37 percent and 25 from 3. That’s just not going to get it done.”
Stockton scored 16 points in the second half as Gonzaga led by as many as 20. He said he nearly bit through his lip while fouling James Walker in the lane with 8:57 left. He sat out briefly, returning to knife down the lane for a lefty finish that bumped Gonzaga’s lead to 60-41.
“Some of it, we don’t guard him,” Gaels coach Randy Bennett said. “Their bigs are such a factor that we had to help somewhere. We did a nice job on ( Przemek Karnowski and Dower inside). The tradeoff is Stockton is open more and I thought he was good in transition.”
Gonzaga never trailed. The Gaels didn’t score until 3½ minutes in when Waldow maneuvered for the first of his four first-half baskets. Waldow made 4 of 4 from the field; the rest of the Gaels were 5 of 19.
Dranginis’ 3-pointer stretched the Zags’ lead to 18-7 and they maintained a 31-20 edge at half.
Gonzaga put away the Gaels with a 9-1 spurt that made it 60-41 with 3:58 left.
“I think we’ve just played against them so much. They’re our rivals so we have that extra edge for them,” Stockton said. “They had (Matthew) Dellavedova last year and had a couple tough bounces this year. I think they’re just a little beat down.”
Gonzaga 70, Saint Mary’s 54
Percentages: FG .373, FT .560. 3-Point Goals: 2-8, .250 (Walker III 1-1, Carter 1-4, Jackson 0-1, Petrulis 0-1, Hodgson 0-1). Team Rebounds: 0. Blocked Shots: 3 (Waldow 2, Hodgson). Turnovers: 17 (Carter 3, Waldow 3, McCoy 3, Levesque 2, Jackson 2, Holt 2, Hodgson, Walker III). Steals: 6 (McCoy 2, Carter 2, Petrulis, Walker III). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .460, FT .731.
3-Point Goals: 5-14, .357 (Bell, Jr. 2-2, Dranginis 1-2, Pangos 1-2, Stockton 1-4, Dower 0-1, Barham 0-3). Team Rebounds: 4. Blocked Shots: 5 (Dower 2, Pangos, Karnowski, Barham). Turnovers: 12 (Karnowski 4, Dower 3, Dranginis 2, Pangos 2, Nunez). Steals: 6 (Barham 2, Karnowski, Bell, Jr., Stockton, Dranginis). Technical Fouls: None.
Halftime—Gonzaga 31-20. A—7,168.