Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Gonzaga Bulldogs: 2015-16: West Coast Men's Basketball Champions



LAS VEGAS -- Eric McClellan scored 20 points, Kyle Wiltjer added 17 and Gonzaga took the guesswork out of its 18th straight NCAA tournament appearance by beating Saint Mary's 85-75 Tuesday night in the West Coast Conference championship game.

Despite sharing the WCC regular-season crown, Gonzaga (26-7) was not a lock to make the NCAA tournament. The Zags had a few smudges on their resume, so winning the WCC would make for a much easier Selection Sunday.

They took the suspense out of it with a balanced attack and by shooting 61 percent in the latest installment of this rivalry. Josh Perkins scored 16 points and Domantas Sabonis added 15 for Gonzaga.

Saint Mary's (27-5) tried to keep up with the Bulldogs' shooting, making 12 of 25 from 3-point range, but will have to hope its resume is good enough for an NCAA tournament berth.

Emmett Naar had 25 points and Joe Rahon added 16 for the Gaels.

Gonzaga and Saint Mary's are no strangers to the WCC title game, meeting in the final for the eighth time since 2004.

The difference this time was the favorite.

In the past, it was always Gonzaga. The Zags have been the dominant force in the WCC and beat Saint Mary's five times in seven games with the tournament title on the line.

This season, the Gaels had the edge heading into Las Vegas. They swept Gonzaga during the regular season for the first time since 1995 and entered the WCC tournament as the No. 1 seed.

The third leg of this season's rivalry was an offensive showcase, the teams combining to hit 13 of their first 14 shots, revving up the already-amped atmosphere inside Orleans Arena even more.

The Zags gained some separation with a bit of defense.

Gonzaga didn't exactly keep the Gaels from making shots -- they went 13 of 26 in the first half -- but did harass them into turnovers that set up shots in transition.

The Zags outscored Saint Mary's 15-4 on points off turnovers and hit 18 of 26 shots to lead 43-35 at halftime.

The torrid shooting continued in the second half and the Gaels cut down on the turnovers, allowing them to keep up with the Zags in an entertaining second half.

Gonzaga used a mini spurt capped by McClellan's straightaway 3-pointer to push the lead to 75-67 with just over 2 minutes left and kept its cushion from there.

TIP INS

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs lead the all-time series against Saint Mary's (63-29) ... Gonzaga has not missed the NCAAs since 1998.

St. Mary's: The Gaels had eight total turnovers, leading to 20 points for Gonzaga. ... Evan Fitzner had 11 points.

WHAT'S NEXT

Gonzaga will play in the NCAA tournament.

St. Mary's must wait to see if it gets an NCAA at-large bid on Sunday.
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