Moon Township, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The battle for the West Coast Conference Tournament championship and the right to play in the NCAA Tournament has come down to the top-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs taking on the second-seeded BYU Cougars.
BYU had quite a scare on Monday night, as the San Francisco Dons gave the Cougars everything they had in a 79-77 overtime win for BYU. A missed 3-point attempt at the buzzer didn't connect for San Francisco, which sent the Cougars through to their first WCC championship game since joining the conference.
Gonzaga cruised past Saint Mary's in the semifinal round on Monday night, beating the Gaels, 70-54. The Zags have won four straight games dating back to the regular season, including an escape-act win over Santa Clara in the WCC quarterfinals. Gonzaga is appearing in its 17th consecutive West Coast Conference championship game, and is seeking its league-leading 13th crown.
Gonzaga has a slim 5-3 edge in the all-time series with BYU. The teams split the two matchups during the regular season, with each winning on its home court. BYU most recently downed Gonzaga on Feb. 20.
It was a tight contest throughout between BYU and San Francisco. The Dons took a two-point lead into the half, then BYU came out in the second and grabbed the advantage right back. The Dons managed to pull even with time winding down, and the game went to overtime. The Cougars scored the first few points and never trailed again, although the Dons did make it a one-point game toward the end. Tyler Haws scored 24 points to pace BYU in the win, going a perfect 14-of-14 from the free-throw line. Kyle Collinsworth tallied a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Anson Winder added 15 points with five boards. Both Eric Mika and Matt Carlino chipped in with 11 points.
Haws has been a monster all season long, and he continued that trend on Monday with his 24-point effort. He entered the game with a 23.3 ppg average, which means he kept right around his season pace. Carlino went into Monday's affair with an average of 14 ppg, and Collinsworth greatly surpassed his 13.9 ppg average by netting 18 against USF. Collinsworth's 155 assists are a team high, and Carlino's 144 are right there. The Cougars, before Monday, were averaging 85 ppg and giving up 77.1 ppg to the opposition.
Gonzaga pulled ahead of Saint Mary's by 11 points at the end of the first half, 31-20. The rest of the game belonged to the Bulldogs, who tacked five additional points onto their lead by the time the final buzzer sounded. The Zags earned the trip back to the WCC championship contest where they'll try and win back-to-back berths to the NCAA Tournament via an automatic bid. David Stockton, who was the hero for the Bulldogs on Saturday when he scored on a layup with 1.4 seconds left to give his team the win, paced Gonzaga on Monday with 21 points, adding six rebounds and four assists for good measure. Gary Bell Jr. tallied 14 points versus SMC, and Sam Dower Jr. netted 12 to go with a team-high nine rebounds.
Dower entered the game Monday with a team-leading 14.9 ppg average, and checked in just below that mark against the Gaels. But he surpassed his 6.9 rpg with his nine boards. Dower was second on the team in rebounding behind Przemek Karnowski's 7.2 rpg total, and Karnowski brought down four rebounds against Saint Mary's. Kevin Pangos, who scored nine points on Monday night, was averaging 14.4 ppg entering the clash. Bell Jr. tallied 11 ppg before his 14-point outburst, and Karnowski was responsible for 10.5 ppg, but scored just two in the semifinal round.