Gonzaga, Saint Mary's give WCC marquee final

Gonzaga enters its 20th consecutive West Coast Conference championship game Tuesday in Las Vegas against a Saint Mary's program that has advanced to 14 of the past 15 semifinals.

They are the marquee programs of the conference with Gonzaga (31-1) ranked No. 4 nationally and Saint Mary's (28-3) at No. 19.

The Gaels come into the championship game off a convincing 31-point victory over BYU, the team that upset then-No. 1 Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash., less than two weeks ago.

The Bulldogs struggled to pull away from Santa Clara late in a 77-68 victory in the other semifinal.

"You want to go into Gonzaga game playing well," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "Both teams are look forward to playing this game, I'm sure. It's two of the top teams in our league going at it, the way it should be."

Gonzaga anticipates Saint Mary's to be vengeful after the Bulldogs beat the Gaels twice in the regular season.

"We've heard commentators on TV say that Saint Mary's can't beat Gonzaga because we don't have the shooters," Saint Mary's forward Jock Landale said after scoring 22 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in the Gaels' 81-50 win over BYU. "We'll concentrate on our defense and make them take as long as possible to get a shot up."

BYU coach Dave Rose was asked during the postgame press conference to give his analysis of the two teams having coached against them with mixed results.

"I think the team that wins is the team that gets the game at their comfort level," Rose said. "The Zags are so good making the game their tempo. They have great size and strength, and so does Saint Mary's.

"I think what might separate them is the Zags can get in spots and shoot their way out of it. It will be a sellout, everybody in country will be watching. It's because it will be a good game."

Gonzaga shot 55.3 percent from the field in its 74-64 win over Saint Mary's on Feb. 11 in Moraga, Calif. The Bulldogs shot 64.7 percent in their 79-56 victory in Spokane, Wash., on Jan. 14.

They made 53.8 percent of their 3-pointers in the first matchup behind Jordan Mathews' 4-of-6 shooting performance beyond the arc. In the second game, frontcourt players Przemek Karnowski and Johnathan Williams combined to shoot 16 of 22 from the field for 36 points.

Saint Mary's is well aware Gonzaga can win in various ways because of the Bulldogs' depth and inside-outside capability.

Landale, who is 6-foot-11, must try to offset Gonzaga's size inside. He has double-double potential. Point guard Emmett Naar is a playmaker (22 assists and only three turnovers in two WCC tournament game) who can break down a defense.

Defense is what Bennett is stressing the most to the Gaels.

"We have to slow them down defensively," Naar said. "They have hurt us inside. We have to do a better job of making them take tougher shots. We look forward to having another crack at it."

Gonzaga's Nigel Williams-Goss, the WCC Player of the Year, believes the challenge presented by Saint Mary's is another indication that playing pressure-filled basketball this month will not be easy but should be welcomed.

"It's postseason basketball," he said. "They're playing for their lives. Nothing comes easy in March."