NCAA tournament resumes, Bracketology and bubbles aren’t big in Gonzaga coach Mark Few’s vocabulary.
Not when there’s a West Coast Conference championship to talk about. Again.
The back-court tandem of Matt Bouldin and Jeremy Pargo combined for 39 points and No. 24 Gonzaga committed its lowest number of turnovers in a game in 23 years en route to an 88-76 victory over No. 25 Saint Mary’s in front of a packed house of 6,000 Saturday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
The Bulldogs, who avenged an 89-85 overtime loss to the Gaels last month, clinched no worse than a share of their eight straight conference championship. Gonzaga (23-6, 12-1) can claim its seventh outright crown during that span with a win over Santa Clara on Monday. The Bulldogs have already secured the No. 1 seed in the WCC Tournament. Saint Mary’s (24-5, 11-2) will be the No. 2 seed.
“It’s much more than nice to hang up another banner,” Few said. “It’s about winning league championships and how you perform during the season, and then those other things will happen. It’s kind of a growing trend across the nation that all anyone wants to talk about is the tournament and bubbles and speculating, but league seasons are long, long hauls. And when you can do this, it means you went on the road and you dug out close games like this.”
Bouldin did most of the digging in the first half, pouring in 14 of his 21 points, his highest total since early January. Pargo, who was in foul trouble much of the first half, took over in the second, hitting 6 of 7 shots and scoring all 18 of his points. Austin Daye contributed 14 points and seven rebounds and the center duo of Abdullahi Kuso and Josh Heytvelt combined for 17 points, 10 boards and five blocks.
“They played at a high level offensively. We were 1 of 10 from 3 and they were 5 of 7 – that was a big difference in the first half,” Gaels coach Randy Bennett said.
Bouldin hit his first shot from 15 feet, then offered up a highlight-reel play. He caught the ball on the perimeter, faked a pass, pump-faked to get around a defender and hit a tough seven-footer on the baseline while being fouled. He added three 3-pointers before intermission, the last a 23-footer that sent GU into the locker room with a 38-36 lead.
The turnover column practically turned Bouldin and Pargo into comedians. Gonzaga had just five turnovers – one in the second half as the Bulldogs hit 56.7 percent of their shots and scored 50 points.
“How many (turnovers) did I have? None. None? What? A miracle,” Bouldin said. “It’s pretty close to a miracle. They’ve been on us a lot about turnovers and that was a main focus to cut those down. That’s a big step for us.”
Cracked Pargo: “Yeah, you’re used to me having five, huh? That’s one of those things that have hurt us several times this year.”
Saint Mary’s only had eight turnovers and the Gaels sent repeated messages that they weren’t going to beat themselves. Gonzaga led 30-20, but Diamon Simpson, who had 18 points in the first half and 25 for the game, triggered a rally by re-gathering a ball stripped from him on the way up and he somehow flipped it in for a basket.
The Gaels nosed in front 34-33, but Pargo and Bouldin hit back-to-back 3s early in the second half as Gonzaga rattled off 11 unanswered points to take a 10-point lead with 12:53 left. Saint Mary’s refused to go away.
“They have tough guys and Diamon is a tough kid,” said Gonzaga’s Micah Downs, who had eight points, six boards and a solid night on defense. “They rebound the ball well and we had to get our rebounding effort up because they kicked our butts on the glass down there. We got it done, man for man, down the list and that helped us get the job done.”
Gonzaga 88, Saint Mary’s 76
Percentages: FG .400, FT .895. 3-Point Goals: 7-23, .304 (Mills 3-9, Hughes 2-4, Simpson 1-2, T.Smith 1-4, O’Leary 0-1, Golden 0-3). Team Rebounds: 5. Blocked Shots: 8 (Y.Smith 4, Simpson, Samhan, Williams, T.Smith). Turnovers: 8 (Mills 3, T.Smith 3, Simpson). Steals: 3 (Golden 2, Simpson). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .516, FT .762. 3-Point Goals: 8-15, .533 (Bouldin 4-5, Pargo 2-3, Gray 1-1, Pendergraft 1-3, Daye 0-1, Downs 0-2). Team Rebounds: 4. Blocked Shots: 68 (Heytvelt 3, Downs 2, Kuso 2, Gray). Turnovers: 5 (Pargo 2, Pendergraft, Gray, Heytvelt). Steals: 5 (Downs 2, Pendergraft, Gray, Kuso). Technical Fouls: None.
Halftime—Gonzaga 38, Saint Mary’s 36. A—6,000.
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