No. 15 Saint Mary’s takes shot at outright league title vs. No. 12 Gonzaga


No. 12 Gonzaga has won or shared 21 of the past 22 West Coast Conference regular-season titles.

No. 15 Saint Mary’s is the lone other program to win the outright crown during that span, and the Gaels look to repeat that feat on Saturday night when they face the Bulldogs in the regular-season finale for both teams in Spokane, Wash.

Saint Mary’s (25-5, 14-1 WCC) owns a one-game lead by virtue of its 78-70 overtime victory over visiting Gonzaga on Feb. 4. A regular-season sweep would give the Gaels their first outright title since the 2011-12 season.

Saint Mary’s earned a share of this season’s title — its first since 2015-16 — with Thursday’s 83-52 rout of visiting Pacific. The celebration was tame with a Friday flight to Spokane and Saturday’s game against the Zags still to come.

“The only negative is we don’t have any time to enjoy it right now,” Gaels coach Randy Bennett said afterward. “We’ll get to that later.”

Gonzaga (24-5, 13-2) remained a game behind Saint Mary’s with a 97-72 rout of visiting San Diego on Thursday.

The easy win kept the Bulldogs in the hunt for a share of the league crown.

“If we lost this game, Saturday wouldn’t really matter,” Gonzaga forward Ben Gregg said afterward. “So we knew this was going to be really important. Now that it’s out of the way, we’re going to have a good prep day (Friday) and Saturday before the game and we’re going to be locked in and ready to go, for sure.”

It is certainly an odd position for the Bulldogs, who have 18 solo league titles and shared three others during the long run of success.

But earning a split of the title on Saturday could vault Gonzaga into the No. 1 seed for the upcoming West Coast Conference tournament in Las Vegas.

If the two teams tie for the regular-season crown, the WCC will use the NCAA NET Rankings to determine the top seed. Saint Mary’s is currently No. 7 and Gonzaga is No. 10, so a Bulldogs win could push the Zags ahead of the Gaels.

Saint Mary’s has won four straight games and 16 of its past 17, and guard Logan Johnson is one of the hottest players in the nation entering Saturday’s showdown.

Johnson scored 29 points on 12-of-15 shooting in the romp over Pacific. It marked his fourth game of at least 27 points during a five-game stretch. He also scored a career-best 34, 31 and 27 during the best stretch of his career.

Johnson’s hot streak has elevated his season scoring average to 14.3, just behind freshman standout Aidan Mahaney (14.8).

Alex Ducas added 17 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots against the Tigers for the Gaels.

Gonzaga star Drew Timme had another splendid outing with 22 points and 13 rebounds in the victory over the Toreros. Eight of Timme’s boards were on the offensive end.

Timme (2,139) also is 58 points away from becoming the Bulldogs’ all-time leading scorer. The mark is currently held by Frank Burgess (2,196 points, 1958-61). Burgess played just three seasons for the Zags while Timme is completing his fourth.

Timme leads Gonzaga in scoring (21.3) points per game and rebounding (7.5). Julian Strawther is averaging 15.6 points.

The victory earlier this month was just Saint Mary’s sixth in the past 29 meetings in the series. The Bulldogs are 17-4 at home against the Gaels since moving into the McCarthey Athletic Center.

–Field Level Media

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