March 7, 2010
LAS VEGAS, Nev. - For the second straight year, the top two seeds advanced to the title game of the WCC Tournament. Top seeded Gonzaga downed #5 Loyola Marymount, 77-62, while #2 seed Saint Mary's defeated #3 seed Portland, 69-55, to advance to the final game of the 2010 Zappos.com WCC Men's Basketball Championship.
The Zags and the Gaels will face off for the WCC's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on Monday, March 8th at 6:00 PM (PT) in a contest televised on ESPN. Fans can also listen to the championship game on Westwood One and Sirius Satellite Radio.
Steven Gray banged his shooting elbow on the Orleans Arena court hard enough to make the Gonzaga guard's coach think it was broken. A little later, two of his fingernails were bent back grotesquely.
"That's why he was constantly bleeding tonight," coach Mark Few said with admiration.
Few himself made a little history, moving into a tie with Hank Anderson as the winningest coach in Gonzaga history with his 290th victory. Few is now 290-71 in his 11th year as head coach, while Anderson posted a 290-275 record in 21 years from 1952-72.
Gray, meanwhile, simply gritted his teeth and got the 18th-ranked Zags back to their usual spot in the West Coast Conference tournament final with a 77-62 victory over Loyola Marymount on Sunday night.
The Bulldogs will face Saint Mary's College in Monday's title game at 6 p.m., the Gaels advancing for a second straight year against the Zags with a 69-55 win over the University of Portland in Sunday's other semifinal. Gonzaga won last year's meeting 83-58 in a battle of the top-seeded Zags and No. 2 Gaels.
Gray had 18 points, six rebounds and tied his season and career high with seven assists while playing through some miserable pain for the Zags, who have won nine of the last 11 West Coast tournament titles. He hopes he'll be repaired by the time Gonzaga plays in Monday night's title game against Portland or Saint Mary's.
"We try to come out and follow the game plan, play hard," Gray said. "It makes the game simple. If we keep things simple, other things will take care of themselves."
With their fifth straight victory since losing a regular-season game to Loyola Marymount on Feb. 18, the Zags are in their 13th straight conference tournament title game and 15th overall. This Vegas trip is among the most rewarding, with just one returning starter and a wealth of untested talent that came together splendidly this season.
"We come into this every year and want to win it," said Matt Bouldin, the conference player of the year. "We want to be playing our best game going into the NCAA tournament. Winning this thing is everything."
Elias Harris scored 16 points and Bouldin scored 10 of his 12 points after halftime for the Zags (26-5), whose big early lead dwindled to six points in the final minutes before Bol Kong and Robert Sacre made decisive baskets. Bouldin added two layups and two free throws in the final 4:44 for Gonzaga, which finished on a 16-5 run.
Gonzaga had played just one game in the past seven days after wrapping up its conference schedule. The Zags earned a double bye into the semifinals by winning their 10th consecutive regular-season title last month - and a break isn't always a great thing for a team's tournament momentum.
"Sometimes getting a game under your belt and getting the nerves out of the way can help you," Few said. "We worked them pretty hard this week, didn't let up."
Neither did Loyola Marymount, which was just a couple of baskets away from a serious threat in the second half.
Drew Viney had 15 points and eight rebounds for the Lions (18-15), who put another scare into the Zags to cap their comeback from a three-win season in 2008-09.
"We've been progressing this whole time, and we're still getting better," Viney said. "We're really hoping we get a bid into some kind of tournament."
Vernon Teel scored 14 points and Kevin Young added 12 before fouling out for Loyola Marymount, which beat Pepperdine and San Francisco over the past two days to reach the semifinals. After such a strong finish, they're quietly confident of an invitation to a lower-tier postseason tournament later this month.
"I just hope we get to play somewhere, someplace, any place," coach Max Good said. "We'll go to the Dust Bowl if we get invited."
Gonzaga played in front of its usual traveling crew of several thousand Spokane fans spending a long weekend in Vegas cheering on the tournament's top-seeded teams in both the men's and women's brackets.
The Lions made five turnovers and got off just one shot in the first 3:28 before finally getting their first basket, and Gonzaga smoothly jumped to a 16-point halftime lead with 57-percent shooting and 14 points by Gray.
Yet Loyola Marymount kept it close with outstanding free-throw shooting while Gonzaga hovered around 50 percent. Young drove and hit a layup with 8 minutes left to trim the Zags' lead to 58-51. Young's large Afro wobbled while he waved his arms to set off a wild celebration in the small section of Lions fans, where several fans wore Hank Gathers' No. 44 jersey three days after the 20th anniversary of his death during a game.
The Lions trimmed Gonzaga's lead to 61-55 on Young's layup with 7:14 left before the defending champions recovered with Sacre's four points and Kong's 3-pointer with 5:44 to play.
#2 SAINT MARY'S - 69
#3 PORTLAND - 55
No. 2 seed Saint Mary's advanced to the championship game of the 2010 Zappos.com West Coast Conference Championships following a 69-55 win over the No. 3 seeded Portland Pilots. Four Gaels scored in double figures, with Omar Samhan leading the way with his 19th double-double of the season with 16 points and 13 rebounds.
Saint Mary's advances to the championship game of the WCC Tournament for the second straight year, and will face the top-seeded and No. 14 ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs. It marks the fourth time in Randy Bennett's nine years with the Gaels, that he's led the team to the championship game, which also include appearances game in 2004 and 2005.
First team All-WCC guard Mickey McConnell had 16 points, to go along with four assists, as he hit 7-of-8 shots from the floor and 2-of-3 from 3-point land. Honorable Mention All-WCC selection and WCC All-Freshman Team honoree, Matthew Dellavedova added 16 points, going 7-of-8 from the free throw line.
Jorden Page came off the bench to provide a spark for the Gaels, not only on the stat sheet by defensively, as he helped hold Portland's Jared Stohl to just four points, all coming from the free throw line. Page had a career-high 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting and 2-of-3 shooting from beyond the arc, in 32 minutes coming off the bench.
Saint Mary's held the Pilots to 28.8 percent shooting for the game, and after the pilots started off 5-for-9, Portland made just 10-of-43 shots (23.2 percent) the final 36 minutes of the game, including 20.8 percent (5-24) in the second half.
On the offensive side of the ball, Saint Mary's shot 55.6 percent overall, while knocking down 7-of-17 shots from beyond the arc. SMC also outrebounded the Pilots 37-25, as Ben Allen finished the game with 11 rebounds for the Gaels.
The Gaels got he first basket of the game on a three by Dellavedova, but the Pilots held a 12-9 lead at the 14:40 mark. Portland opened the game by making five of their its first nine shots, but finished the half shooting just 10-of-28 overall, making just 5-of-19 shots the final 14:41, to shoot 35.7 percent and just 1-for-4 from 3-point land.
After the 12-9 lead by the Pilots, an in-your-face 3-pointer by McConnell over T.J. Campbell sparked an 11-0 run over the next four minutes, that had the Gaels leading 20-12 at the midway point of the half. The SMC-run continued, as the Gaels outscored the Pilots 10-4 over the next 3:20 to take a 30-16 lead following a lay-up by Samhan with 6:40 on the clock.
Portland outscored SMC 10-7 over the final 6:40 of the half to cut the Gaels' lead to 37-26 at the break. Samhan was one rebound shy of a double-double at halftime, as he led all players with 10 points and nine rebounds.
McConnell finished the half with nine points and Dellavedova had eight. SMC had eight points off the bench in the first half, with seven coming from Jorden Page.
Portland opened the second half with a 6-0 run to cut SMC's lead to 37-32, but the Gaels weathered the storm, and after not hitting a shot from the floor the first 3:45 of the half, Saint Mary's went on a 10-2 run over the next four minutes to extend its lead to 50-36 when Dellavedova hit Samhan cutting to the basket for an easy lay-up at the 12:05 mark.
With the Gaels leading 52-40, the Gaels used a 9-0 run to extend their lead to 21 points (61-40) as McConnell hit another long three from the wing and a fast break dunk by Page on the next possession ignited the crowd and Saint Mary's.
The Saint Mary's lead reached as many as 24 points (27-43) following three free throws by Dellavedova with 6:13 left on the clock.
Saint Mary's will play No. 14 ranked, and top seed in the WCC Tournament on Monday, March 8 at 6 p.m. from the Orleans Arena, and will be televised on ESPN.