SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Adam Morrison punctuated a sensational two-day run in the West Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament Monday night with a stirring, late-game, end-to-end sprint and two-handed dunk.
Not that it mattered much as far as the outcome was concerned, but it certainly provided a fitting tournament ending for Gonzaga’s immensely talented sophomore forward, who finished with a career-high 30 points to lead the top-seeded Bulldogs to an 80-67 win over No. 2 Saint Mary’s in Santa Clara’s Leavey Center.
Morrison, a 6-foot-8 scoring machine, made 12 of 21 field-goal tries in leading the Zags to their second straight WCC title and a seventh-straight NCAA Tournament berth.
“It feels great,” he said after being named the tournament’s most valuable player. “Not just for me, but for the whole team. There was a lot of trash talking around the league about this not being our year, but we proved otherwise.
“Not only did we win the regular-season championship, but we won the tournament, too.”
The win was the 12th in a row for the Zags (25-4), who moved up to No. 11 in this week’s Associated Press Top-25 poll. It also gave the Bulldogs their sixth WCC crown in the last seven years and left them with some time to savor the win prior to learning Sunday where they will be seeded and where they will be sent in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Whatever happens, Morrison can be credited with much of GU’s recent success, having scored 25 points in Sunday night’s 90-74 semifinal win over San Diego.
“You know, he’s just so fast,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said of Morrison. “People underestimate how fast he is. He’s 6-8 and he can shoot over you. It’s hard to guard him with a little guy, because he’s too big, and for a big guy, it’s hard to keep up with him.
“He’s gotten better this year. I think he was in a little run there for a while, but in the last five or six games, he been on a tear.”
GU coach Mark Few expressed no surprise over Morrison’s outstanding effort – at both ends of the floor.
“Adam is a big-time player,” he said. “The bigger the moment, usually, the bigger he is. But it’s just not his scoring. He’s defending, he’s rebounding, he’s making the extra pass and he’s making the people better around him.”
Of course, there was plenty of help from the rest of the Zags roster.
Senior forward Ronny Turiaf shook off a poor performance in Sunday’s semifinal win by scoring 18 points and pulling down 14 rebounds. Sophomore point guard Derek Raivio, who was named to the all-tournament team, along with Morrison and J.P. Batista, added 16 points.
Saint Mary’s (25-8) was paced by junior forward Daniel Kickert, who scored 27 points and fellow all-tournament selection Paul Marigney, who added 20.
The game was decided early in the second half when the Bulldogs held Saint Mary’s scoreless for almost seven minutes. The Gaels missed nine shots – four of which were blocked – during their scoring famine and turned the ball over three times.
Gonzaga regained the lead for the first time since the opening two minutes of the game on a baseline runner by Morrison 49 seconds into the second half and put together a 17-5 run that gave the Zags a 51-40 lead at the 14:10 mark of the period.
Morrison provided the Zags with most of their early offense, making 4 of 8 first-half field-goal tries, and ignited their early post-intermission burst by scoring GU’s first seven points of the second half – three of which came on a steal and nifty fast-break pass, courtesy of Erroll Knight.
Turiaf, Batista, Raivio and David Pendergraft also added baskets during that run, but the Bulldogs missed a couple of great opportunities to further distance themselves from the Gaels when Turiaf missed a short turn-around jumper and Raivio and Morrison each misfired on wide-open 3-pointers.
Saint Mary’s, after leading by 10 points midway through the first half, had to settle for a 35-34 lead at intermission after the Bulldogs finally decided to defend Kickert. The Gaels’ 6-foot-10 junior, from Melbourne, Australia, scored 15 first-half points on three 3-pointers – three of which came on consecutive possessions early in the game.
The last of Kickert’s first-half 3s put Saint Mary’s up 29-21, but GU closed the period with a 13-6 run, thanks to some solid inside work by Batista, who sandwiched a three-point play and a short fall-away jumper between 3s by Kickert and Jonathan Sanders.
Gonzaga made its late run despite not scoring a field goal in the final 6 minutes, 42 seconds of the period. And the Bulldogs could have taken the lead had they not missed three of the eight free throw attempts they shot during their field-goal drought.
Morrison, after scoring nine of GU’s first 16 points, cooled considerably during the closing minute of the half and finished with 11 points. Turiaf added nine points and six rebounds for the Zags, who were 11 of 23 from the field.
Saint Mary’s, which made 8 of 17 3-pointers and wrestled down seven offensive rebounds in the opening 20 minutes, made just 13 of 33 field-goal tries. Marigney scored nine points for the Gaels, while backcourt runningmate E.J. Rowland added five points and six assists.
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