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St. Mary’s upsets Zags in WCC title game

Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — Mickey McConnell matched his career high with 26 points, Ben Allen added a career-best 20 and Saint Mary’s upset No. 18 Gonzaga in an 81-62 victory Monday night in the West Coast Conference tournament title game.

Jorden Page scored 11 points and Omar Samhan had nine points and seven rebounds for the Gaels (26-5), who earned the sixth NCAA tournament berth in the small Bay Area school’s history with a remarkable shooting performance against the top-seeded Zags (26-6), the 10-time regular-season WCC champions.

McConnell and Allen hit four 3-pointers apiece, propelling the Gaels to a first-half lead before an electric 18-7 run down the second-half stretch.

Saint Mary’s won the WCC tournament for just the second time since it began in 1987, beating Gonzaga for the first time in 10 tourney meetings.

Steven Gray scored 16 points and Matt Bouldin added 14 for Gonzaga, which had won nine of the last 11 WCC tournaments. Elias Harris managed just eight points on 3 of 13 shooting, and the Zags couldn’t match Saint Mary’s second-half rally.

The Zags likely are still headed back to the NCAAs, but they won’t get the WCC’s automatic bid for just the third time in 12 years.

Saint Mary’s lost 83-58 to Gonzaga in last year’s tournament title game at the Orleans Arena, and subsequently were denied an at-large NCAA berth. But even after losing stars Patty Mills and Diamon Simpson from last year’s 28-7 team, these Gaels rebounded from two decisive regular-season losses to the Zags with one of the more remarkable games in school history.

The players frantically embraced each other at center court after the final buzzer, with several dozen fans storming the court to celebrate together. The fans eventually cleared off the court for the trophy presentation, and McConnell jumped over press row to hug his parents before accepting his tournament MVP award.

Saint Mary’s has been the closest thing to a rival to Gonzaga for WCC supremacy in recent years, with the East Bay school putting together a string of entertaining teams led by coach Randy Bennett and a string of Australian players, including high-scoring point guard Mills, who failed in his attempt to jump to the NBA this year, and current players Allen, Page and Matthew Dellavedova, who had seven points and six assists.

While the Zags’ thousands of traveling fans drowned out the smaller Bay Area contingent before the game, Saint Mary’s had a remarkable start. McConnell hit a high-arching 3-pointer from well behind the NBA line to put the Gaels up 12-7 early, and they never trailed in the half while taking 10 more shots than Gonzaga and making just two turnovers.

Saint Mary’s led despite getting no points from Samhan or Dellavedova, but Demetri Goodson put the Zags ahead on the first possession of the second half. Saint Mary’s moved back ahead 46-40 on McConnell’s layup with 12:05 left, and Samhan didn’t end up hurting the Gaels when he got a technical foul on the next possession for shoving Robert Sacre out of his way.

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