LAS VEGAS – Like a lot of visitors to Sin City, Gonzaga’s 11 West Coast Conference Tournaments here have produced countless memorable moments and a few unpleasant nights at the other end of the spectrum.
The Zags have shown sheer dominance, with eight double-digit, title-game victories at Orleans Arena. They demonstrated grit, digging out several all-in, must-win matchups to extend their streak of NCAA Tournament appearances. They’ve felt the sting of three championship-game setbacks to rival Saint Mary’s.
The Bulldogs are 5-3 versus Saint Mary’s and 3-0 against BYU in title games. They’re 24-3 overall and had an 18-game winning streak snapped by the Gaels in last year’s championship game.
A recap of Gonzaga’s highs and lows in Las Vegas:
2011: Gonzaga 75, Saint Mary’s 63
First, the Zags rallied from a three-game WCC losing streak to share the regular-season title with Saint Mary’s. Then the Zags knocked off the Gaels in the tournament title game, extending the program’s NCAA Tournament streak to 13.
Gonzaga broke a 53-all tie with eight straight points. Steven Gray, who needed four stitches to close a cut above his left eye, scored 15 points. Robert Sacre had 12 points and tournament MVP Marquise Carter added 11.
WCC Player of the Year Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova combined for 45 points, but the Gaels shot just 32% in the second half.
“I’m learning still, in my 40s, the resiliency of kids,” coach Mark Few said. “These guys hung with it and hung with it, when it felt like the whole world was collapsing with all the people around them. That’s something we could all probably learn from.”
2016: Gonzaga 85, Saint Mary’s 75
Like 2011, Gonzaga was probably on the wrong side of the bubble, but the Zags used a late 9-2 run to secure their 18th consecutive NCAA Tournament berth, avenging a pair of regular-season losses to the Gaels.
Eric McClellan scored 11 of GU’s final 14 points, including a dunk and a dagger 3, finishing with 20. Tournament MVP Kyle Wiltjer had 17 points.
Few’s father, Norm, shed a tear or two during the on-court celebration, then joked that it was sweat. “It ain’t sweat,” Few said of his dad. “He’s a big crier, and I probably will be, too. This group, what we had to go through with all the adversity, the sky-is-falling stuff, to be able to power through, stay positive and get it done, makes this one really special.”
2016: Gonzaga 88, BYU 84
The Zags, with just seven scholarship players and a six-man rotation in the second half, won an offensive shootout in the WCC Tournament semifinals, keeping their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
Wiltjer scored a game-high 29 points. Domantas Sabonis contributed 18 points and 14 rebounds. Nick Emery paced BYU with 27 points.
Wiltjer hit a corner 3-pointer late and hustled up an offensive rebound that led to two McClellan free throws.
“A lot of people don’t see us as a tournament team, so when it creates that environment, there’s just that desperation,” Wiltjer said. “Both teams were playing so hard, putting it all on the line. We were fortunate to make the right plays when we needed to.”
2011: Gonzaga 71, San Francisco 67
The Zags were on the ropes in the tourney semifinals, but Carter made seven free throws in the final 43 seconds, holding off the third-seeded Dons with Gonzaga’s NCAA Tournament hopes hanging in the balance. Carter scored 10 of his 18 points at the foul line.
“The coaches make sure we get up a lot of free throws, even when we’re tired,” Carter said. “Stepping to the line, it seems really relaxing for me.”
Mike Hart’s steal led to a pair of Carter free throws that put GU up 64-60. Carter added five more free throws and Demetri Goodson made a key steal in the closing seconds.
David Stockton provided a boost off the bench with nine points and two assists.
2014: Gonzaga 77, Santa Clara 75
The Zags avoided a stumble in the quarterfinals against ninth-seeded Santa Clara when Stockton made a twisting layup with 1.4 seconds remaining. Gonzaga trailed most of the game, but took the lead 64-63 on Stockton’s layup. The Zags coughed up a 75-70 lead with 35 seconds left, but Stockton’s bucket was the difference in the closest game GU has played in Las Vegas.
It was a milestone day for the Stockton family, as David found out entering the locker room that younger sister Laura had helped Gonzaga Prep win a Washington Class 4A state title.
Sam Dower went 15 of 15 at the free-throw line and scored 23 points.
2019: Saint Mary’s 60, Gonzaga 47
There have been some stunners in the WCC Tournament’s 11-year run at Orleans Arena, but this might just top the list.
No. 1-ranked Gonzaga thrashed Saint Mary’s 94-46 on Feb. 9 and added a 14-point win in Moraga, California, on March. 2. The teams met 10 days later for the WCC title, and the Gaels shocked a pro-Zags crowd by controlling the pace and muzzling Gonzaga’s offense.
The Zags scored a season low by 20 points. They made 2 of 17 3-pointers and had just six assists. WCC Player of the Year Rui Hachimura attempted just six shots and scored nine points. Guards Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell Jr., Corey Kispert and Geno Crandall combined for 17 points on 7-of-30 shooting.
“They were collapsing on (Rui) pretty good,” Few said. “If we could have explored the collapse, kicked out, moved it again and got going, it would have given us a better look. Pride got in our way, and we attempted a lot tougher shots than we needed to.”
2010: Saint Mary’s 81, Gonzaga 62
The Gaels authored a complete reversal, winning by 19 points after losing by 19 to GU one month previous. McConnell, scoreless in an 80-61 loss in Spokane, drilled four 3-pointers and scored 26 points. Ben Allen made four 3s and scored a career-high 20 points.
Steven Gray and Matt Bouldin combined for 30 points. They were the only Zags in double figures.
“We just kept forcing shots,” Bouldin said. “Whether it was one pass and everybody trying to create on their own, we kind of lost our identity in terms of moving the ball around and moving the defense around.”
2012: Saint Mary’s 78, Gonzaga 74 (OT)
The Gaels ended the Zags’ 11-year run of WCC regular-season titles, doubling their pleasure by winning the tournament championship.
GU’s Elias Harris sent it to overtime with a 3-pointer, but tournament MVP Matthew Dellavedova put SMC ahead with two free throws and added two more with six seconds left.
Dellavedova finished with 22 points. Rob Jones added 18 points and nine rebounds.
“It’s pretty special,” Dellavedova said. “Gonzaga has dominated it for a long time. We really wanted the conference outright, and once we did that, we wanted the tournament.”
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