Zags and Gaels square off in pivotal WCC showdown

The top two teams in the West Coast Conference get after each other one final time here in the 2012-13 regular season, as the fifth-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs come calling on the Saint Mary's-CA Gaels for a Thursday night showdown.

The same two squads battled in Spokane back on Jan. 10, with Gonzaga prevailing, 83-78, to take a 55-27 lead in the all-time series. The Zags and Gaels have combined to win every WCC regular-season championship since 2001. This bout also pits a GU team that is 5-0 in conference road games against a SMC squad that is 5-0 in conference home bouts.

Gonzaga is 23-2 on the year and a perfect 10-0 in conference play, and Saint Mary's is hot on its heels with a 10-1 league ledger, the Gaels sporting a 21-4 overall record.

The Bulldogs are in the midst of a six-game win streak, with their latest victory coming in a 74-55 rout of Loyola Marymount last Saturday.

The Gaels are riding an even longer winning streak, logging nine consecutive triumphs since the loss at Gonzaga. SMC won at San Diego last Saturday, 74-64.

Boasting three double-digit scorers, Gonzaga has had very little trouble putting points on the scoreboard this season, netting a WCC-best 78.6 ppg behind typical shooting efforts of .507 overall, .385 from 3-point range, and .705 from the charity stripe. Additionally, the Bulldogs own favorable margins in both rebounding (+6.5) and turnovers (+2.8), while yielding a league-low 61.3 ppg by holding foes to .394 field goal efficiency. Kelly Olynyk (17.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Elias Harris (14.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Kevin Pangos (11.9 ppg, 2.2 apg) lead the Zags to the lofty heights they've achieved to this point in the campaign, and all three were on point in the recent rout of Loyola Marymount. Olynyk and Pangos had identical lines of 20 points, six rebounds and four assists, while Harris recorded a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. As a team, GU shot 51.1 percent from the field, while going 21-of-30 at the foul line, and claiming a 43-29 edge on the glass. The Lions were held to 29.8 percent field goal accuracy, which included a dismal 18.8 percent (3- of-13) effort from beyond the arc.

Saint Mary's has a potent offense as well, the team netting 77.8 ppg in hitting 49.3 percent of its total shots, which includes a near-40 percent showing from 3-point range. Matthew Dellavedova (15.9 ppg, 6.0 apg) serves as both the unit's leading scorer and primary playmaker, and he is joined in double figures by Stephen Holt (11.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Beau Levesque (11.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and Brad Waldow (10.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg). The Gaels aren't quite the dominant defensive team its counterpart can be, but the team still does a solid job of holding the opposition to 64.0 ppg. SMC leads the WCC in free- throw percentage (.731) and rebounding margin (+9.4), while ranking second with 8.3 3-point field goals per outing. Dellavedova drained five treys on his way to 19 points and he handed out seven assists as well, while Waldow added 18 points, both efforts helping the Gaels push their way past the San Diego Toreros on the road last weekend. Saint Mary's converted 49.1 percent of its field goal attempts, hitting 12-of-29 3-point tries along the way, while the home team was limited to 39.3 percent shooting, which included a 7-of-20 effort from distance.