Las Vegas, NV – For the fifth straight year, the West Coast Conference Tournament comes down to the same two programs as the Saint Mary's- CA Gaels clash with the nation's top-ranked team in the Gonzaga Bulldogs at Orleans Arena on Monday night.
Saint Mary's, which defeated the Bulldogs in the title game last season (78-74) in overtime, has gone up against Gonzaga in the championship game a total of six times since 2004. However, the Gaels came dangerously close to not making it this far seeing as how they had to battle back against San Diego on Saturday night, and go to overtime before pulling out a 69-66 win.
The second seed in the tourney this year, SMC is now 24-23 in the event all- time.
As for the top-seeded Bulldogs, they've been virtually untouchable this season with a mere two defeats, both of which came against opponents (Illinois and Butler) that were ranked in the top-15 at the time. Since the setback to the other Bulldogs, a one-point thriller at the buzzer, Gonzaga has rattled off 13 consecutive wins.
The most recent triumph came on Saturday night when the Zags toppled Loyola Marymount in the semifinals of the tourney, 66-48, in order to advance to the title game for an amazing 16th straight year. The victory was the 30th in 32 tries for Gonzaga, setting a new single-season program record for wins in the process.
Gonzaga, which defeated the Gaels in the championship two years ago (75-63), has a staggering 11 trophies stemming from this event, not to mention a record of 40-15 all-time.
In terms of the all-time series between these two squads, the Zags lead by a count of 56-27 after sweeping the regular-season matchups.
The Gaels appeared to be on their way out of the tournament on Saturday night, falling behind San Diego by a score of 20-6, nine minutes into the meeting. But SMC battled back to trail by only three at the break, and then used a 3- pointer by Matthew Dellavedova in the waning moments of regulation to tie the game at 62-62 and send it to overtime where the Gaels made their move. Dellavedova, who was on the floor for all 45 minutes, shot only 2-of-12 from the field and 1-of-7 beyond the arc, finishing with seven points, but there's no denying that he was again a key figure in the team's success as he accounted for 12 assists.
Brad Waldow picked up some of the slack with his double-double consisting of 23 points and 16 rebounds, adding four blocked shots, while Beau Levesque contributed 19 points and six boards off the bench before fouling out. Mitchell Young added 12 points and five boards as the Gaels beat USD on the glass, 48-31.
Dellavedova (16.2 ppg) proved on Saturday night that he doesn't have to score a boat-load of points in order to have great influence over an SMC outcome, but it is still good to have the ball in his hands when the team needs a crucial score. The production by Waldow (10.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg) this season had a lot to do with defenses focusing so much on the guard play for the Gaels, something the team hopes continues late into March.
Unlike Saint Mary's, the Bulldogs had very little trouble with their opponent two nights ago, although they did fall behind LMU by five points midway through the first half. Eventually the Zags moved to a 27-26 advantage at the break and then blew the game open in the second half with 50 percent shooting from the floor, including 4-of-7 beyond the arc. Elias Harris accounted for a team-best 21 points and also pulled down eight boards, while Kevin Pangos tallied 14 points.
The top player in the WCC, Kelly Olynyk, shot only 3-of-10 from the floor as he finished with eight points, eight rebounds and four assists, which might actually be a blessing in disguise for the Bulldogs because it demonstrated that even with their top performer having an off night, the supporting cast is strong enough to carry the load.
Harris, a starter in all but one game this season, is second on the team in scoring (14.8 ppg) and first on the glass (7.5 rpg), while Pangos contributes another 11.8 ppg and is second on the unit with better than three assists per outing. Obviously, Olynyk (17.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg) is the one that everybody keeps an eye on and for good reason, but the Bulldogs are more than just their center this season.