No. 9 Gonzaga, No. 16 Saint Mary’s clash for WCC title, bragging rights

Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s are assured of single-digit seeds in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, but that won’t diminish the importance or the intensity on Tuesday night when the fierce rivals meet in the West Coast Conference tournament championship game in Las Vegas.

The No. 9-ranked Bulldogs and No. 16 Gaels split two regular-season meetings, so the title game will convey as bragging rights as well as one last chance to add a solid win to the resume.

“We kind of have a respected hatred for each other,” Gonzaga star Drew Timme said. “We don’t like each other, but at the same time we respect each other.”

Top-seeded Saint Mary’s (26-6) reached the final for the sixth time in eight seasons with a 76-69 victory over fifth-seeded BYU. Second-seeded Gonzaga (27-5) is in the title contest for the 26th straight season after posting an 84-73 win over sixth-seeded San Francisco.

The Bulldogs now have reached the championship game in all 24 of Mark Few’s seasons and are 18-5 in those contest entering the Tuesday matchup. Saint Mary’s has won three WCC tournament titles under coach Randy Bennett, the most recent coming in a 60-47 victory over Gonzaga in 2019.

“It’s going to be a battle,” Bulldogs forward Ben Gregg said after scoring 12 points against the Dons. “We know it will be a hard-fought game. We will have to put our hard hats on.”

Saint Mary’s led by as many as 26 points in its semifinal contest before holding off BYU in the final minute. Alex Ducas led the way with 23 points and seven rebounds.

The Gaels never trailed, but BYU put together a dazzling 39-16 dash to cut the deficit to three. Kyle Bowen’s layup with 27.7 seconds left helped Saint Mary’s hold on.

“We played well for probably the first 25 minutes and then lost focus a little bit,” Bennett said. “They got some momentum, and that gave them some hope, and it was a two-possession game. We need to get better at closing out things and handling things a little more mature as far as when it gets testy.”

The contest was the Gaels’ first of the tournament, and Ducas could feel a little rust.

“(BYU) had two games before us and this was our first one, so it felt good to grind one out and put us in the right spot for the next game,” Ducas said. “It shows a lot of experience from the guys. Not the way we wanted to win, but we’ll take it.”

Aidan Mahaney added 18 points for the Gaels, and it’s safe to say the freshman standout will be circled brightly on Gonzaga’s scouting report.

When Saint Mary’s registered a 78-70 home overtime win against the Zags on Feb. 4, Mahaney scored 16 of his 18 points after halftime. He scored eight points — on four drives for layups — in a 97-second span late in regulation.

The Bulldogs won the rematch 77-68 on Feb. 25 on their home floor. Timme scored 19 points and Anton Watson had 17 points, eight rebounds and four steals.

Watson was a force on Monday, producing 20 points and seven rebounds against San Francisco. The Bulldogs never trailed and led by as many as 15 in the first half before the Dons moved within two in the second half. Gonzaga then re-established control.

Timme needs five points to surpass Frank Burgess (2,196 from 1958-61) as Gonzaga’s all-time leading scorer. Burgess played three seasons while Timme is in his fourth season.

“That’s been standing for a long time,” Timme said of the record. “If I score zero points and we win, I’d be the happiest guy around. That’s all I care about.”

–Field Level Media

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