The West Coast Conference Tournament Championship games tips off tonight at 9:00pm ET at the Orleans Arena. St Mary's Gaels are going for two straight titles over Gonzaga.
Nothing says rubber match for all the marbles like two co-champions of the regular season meeting in the championship game of the conference tournament, and what better place to play for all those marbles than in the city where chips and marbles and everything else one can cherish are constantly on the line, Las Vegas? That will be the scenario Monday night when the Saint Mary’s Gaels (24-7, 11-3) will try and make it two straight West Coast Conference tournament titles over the Gonzaga Bulldogs (23-9, 11-3).
The two teams beat each other during the regular season, with the road team winning both times. Now “Sin City” will host the third and decisive game in this basketball trilogy that has quietly become one of the more bitter and better rivalries west of the Mississippi. With a championship on the line, and improved NCAA Tournament seeding as well, what goes on in Vegas definitely isn’t staying in Vegas come Monday night.
Gonzaga Bulldogs (23-9)
Gonzaga got into the title game with a 71-67 victory, when installed as a 14 point favorite on the NCAA basketball betting board, over a very gritty University of San Francisco squad, marking its nine straight WCC win. Marquise Carter led the ‘Zags with 18 points, three steals and only one turnover. Carter showed his mettle down the stretch, making seven of eight clutch free throws in the game’s final 48 seconds to help Gonzaga hold on for the victory. Robert Sacre and Elias Harris added 12 points each as the Bulldogs watched the Dons trim a 10-point halftime deficit to 62-60 with just under a minute to play.
Gonzaga struggled with its shooting eye, as the team made just 40.7% from the floor, and only hit on 3-of-14 from beyond the arc. The difference was superb FT shooting, the ‘Zags were 24-of-29 from the line, outscoring the Dons 24-20 at the charity stripe and that turned out to be the difference in the tightly-contested game.
St Mary's Gaels (24-7)
The Gaels advanced to the championship game by overcoming an early deficit in the first half, toughing out a 73-64 win over the underdog Santa Clara Broncos. While the Gaels are used to getting huge contributions from its upperclassmen in the backcourt, it was the young pups, which came up big in this semifinal win. Sophomore forward Mitchell Young came off the bench to score 17 points and add seven rebounds.
Meanwhile, freshman guard Stephen Holt (6.0 PPG) more than doubled his normal scoring output with 15 points, to help get his team back into the championship game. Holt and Young combined to shoot 12-for-18 from the floor. Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova scored 10 and 13 points respectively. Normally the two star guards combine for 30 points and 11.5 assists per game.
Head to head
McConnell was the star of the first Gonzaga/Saint Mary’s contest back in January when his running 15-footer with one second left to play gave his team the 73-71 victory in Spokane. McConnell scored 27 points that evening, including 10 of his team’s final 11 points.
It was the first victory at Gonzaga for the Gaels since 1995. The ‘Zags got some measure of revenge on February 24 at Saint Mary’s when the Bulldogs pulled out an 89-85 overtime victory. Freshman center Sam Dower was a pleasant surprise against the Gaels, tallying 15 points and five boards in the home loss, and 21 points in the road victory. ‘Zags guard Steven Gray (13.9 PPG) has struggled against the Gaels, averaging just 11 points on 36% shooting in the two games, fouling out of both contests. The February defeat prevented SMC from winning the WCC regular-season title outright.
Entering the conference tournament this season, the Bulldogs have won a share of the regular season title for 11 straight years. Now they are seeking to win their first conference tournament championship since 2009. Monday night’s rematch will take place almost a year to the day of last year’s WCC title game played on March 8, also in Vegas. In that game, Saint Mary’s avenged two regular-season losses to Gonzaga, outscoring them 51-33 in the second half en route to an 81-62 championship game statement victory.
These schools have gone much different ATS paths since SMC won the first matchup on Jan. 27. Gonzaga is 6-4 ATS while SMC is a miserable 2-7-1 ATS. Although Gonzaga has had more than a leg up in this series recently (30-6 SU since 1997), the teams are an even 10-10 ATS in the past 20 meetings. But two stats in which SMC has the advantage this season are turnovers (11.4 TPG; Gonzaga: 13.6 TPG) and shooting percentage (48.1% FG in non-home games; Gonzaga: 44.1%). This will be an exciting rubber match, but expect Saint Mary’s to be cutting down the nets shortly after the final buzzer sounds.