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Gonzaga’s guards pave way to conference title over Saint Mary’s

Gonzaga guard Silas Melson (0) dunks on Saint Mary’s in the West Coast Conference title game on Tuesday, March 7, 2017, at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. Gonzaga won 74-56. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga guard Silas Melson (0) dunks on Saint Mary’s in the West Coast Conference title game on Tuesday, March 7, 2017, at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. Gonzaga won 74-56. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

LAS VEGAS – Gonzaga finally got its big celebration under the lights when it claimed the West Coast Conference tournament championship, handling second-seeded Saint Mary’s 74-56 on Tuesday.

The guards certainly stole the show – especially Nigel Williams-Goss, who scored a game-high 22 points against the Gaels.

But not all the contributors behind the championship victory stood out with big numbers.

After a rough game in the conference semifinal on Monday against Santa Clara, guards Silas Melson and Josh Perkins returned with a little more fire – particularly Melson, whose only points against the Broncos came at the line in the final seconds.

Melson became the driving force behind a 10-0 run that sparked the Zags when Saint Mary’s trimmed its deficit to single digits midway through the second half. He fed Przemek Karnowski for a layup that sparked the roughly two-minute shooting spree.

Williams-Goss picked up a steal 30 seconds later and converted a three-point play after being fouled on his shot at the rim.

Then the guards hit replay.

Williams-Goss created another turnover on the Gaels’ next possession and handed the ball off to Melson, who went in for a layup and was sent to the line for one last make that capped off the double-digit scoring frenzy and pushed Gonzaga’s lead to 65-48.

“It was a hell of a team effort,” said Melson, who finished with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting.

The guards took turns pressuring the Gaels’ Joe Rahon and Emmet Naar, holding the Saint Mary’s pair to a combined 16 points and forcing five turnovers.

“Coach really challenges each and every one of us to dialing into the details, to not get caught up in our offense, to be proactive on the defensive end,” Williams-Goss said. “To win basketball games, you’ve got to do it on both ends of the floor.”

One other starter certainly took on the challenge to fight on both sides of the floor.

Perkins – who didn’t get on the board on Monday in 21 minutes – stepped up on both ends of the court against Saint Mary’s. He hit two of his four shots, including a 3-pointer that made it 5-3, taking away the Gaels’ only lead of the game.

The redshirt sophomore was also part of the crew which applied steady pressure on Naar, once getting the ball back in Gonzaga’s hands after forcing Naar out of bounds without fouling.

“Coach was telling us to play, be aggressive. I think tonight we heard the message,” Perkins said. “We came out and we were ourselves.”

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