Second-seeded Gonzaga tangles with No. 6 San Francisco in WCC tournament semifinals
March 5, 2023 Updated Sun., March 5, 2023 at 8:09 p.m.
LAS VEGAS – Gonzaga waited until early Sunday morning to find out its semifinal assignment in the West Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament.
Sixth-seeded San Francisco, led by Khalil Shabazz’s career-high 38 points, outlasted No. 3 Santa Clara 93-87 in double overtime – the thrilling contest ended at 12:25 a.m. – to earn a spot in the semifinals against second-seeded Gonzaga.
Tip time Monday is approximately 8:30 p.m. at Orleans Arena. Top-seeded Saint Mary’s faces No. 5 BYU at 6 p.m.
“We just work on ourselves for a while and spend a little bit of time on who we think we might play,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said after Wednesday’s home win over Chicago State. “We can actually practice here Sunday before we go down so we’ll know who we’re going to play by then.”
Gonzaga (26-5), ranked 10th in the Associated Press Top 25, won both regular-season meetings against the Dons (20-13). Senior guard Rasir Bolton scored 11 of his 21 points in the last 5 minutes, 15 seconds, including a putback with eight seconds left for the final points in a 77-75 road victory.
The Zags, winners of 26 straight in the series, scored 60 first-half points and rolled in the rematch 99-81 at the McCarthey Athtletic Center behind 44 combined points from Bolton and Drew Timme.
Timme, who averages 21.1 points, is 22 points from becoming Gonzaga’s all-time leading scorer. Frank Burgess, who scored 2,196 points in three seasons from 1959-61, has held the record for 62 years.
Gonzaga has played only one game in the last nine days before it lines up against the Dons, who downed Pacific on Friday and Santa Clara in a 2-hour, 37-minute marathon.
“I think you have to get an advantage (bye into semifinals) for winning your league, rather than it just being straight socialism or something where you don’t have to do anything and you get everything,” said Few, who has a 49-5 record at the tournament. “The one hard thing about it is the team we play will have a game (actually two in USF’s case), which it’s just a different feel down there in the league tournament.
“Some of these teams are obviously playing with a desperation. Ourselves and Saint Mary’s know we’re in (the NCAA Tournament) so they’re playing for their lives. It’s a neutral court setting, but then also they get that game to get the nerves and stuff out and then they get a day of rest. But so far the byes have worked out pretty good for us over the years.”
It certainly has. The Zags have advanced to 25 consecutive title games. Of course, not all of those tourneys included a bye into the semifinal round, but the Zags have won nine of the last 10 championships and they’re 19-6 in the last 25 title games.
Saint Mary’s edged San Francisco 66-59 in 1997 in the last championship game that didn’t include the Zags.
Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s shared the regular-season crown. They’ve squared off in 10 of the last 14 title games with GU holding a 7-3 edge. The Zags are 4-0 vs. BYU in the same time frame.
The Dons are led by All-WCC first-team guards Shabazz and Washington State transfer Tyrell Roberts. Shabazz averages 17.5 points and has hit a team-high 89 3-pointers. Roberts isn’t far behind at 16.2 points and 84 made 3s.
Shabazz poured in 23 points in the last 13-plus minutes of regulation and he assisted on Josh Kunen’s clutch 3-pointer in overtime that gave USF the lead for good against the Broncos. Roberts heated up in the second half and finished with 16 points as the Dons held off Santa Clara and its All-WCC backcourt of Brandin Podziemski (22 points) and Carlos Stewart (22 points).
The Zags have won their last seven games and could elevate their NCAA Tournament seeding with a pair of wins in Las Vegas. GU is projected as a three seed in the West Region and Saint Mary’s is a five in the East, according ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. Jerry Palm of CBS Sports has Gonzaga as a three seed (playing the first weekend in Sacramento) and Saint Mary’s as a five (opening in Greensboro) in the Midwest.
“Everybody in this league has given us a tough matchup,” Timme said. “It’s going to be hard to combat people that have played us three times and the same for them. It’ll be huge momentum if we can pull out a ‘W’.”
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