MORAGA, Calif.—Can we crown them now?
No. 3 Gonzaga had to come back on the road against the defending West Coast Conference champions and a huge second half run sealed the 77-60 win over Saint Mary’s and has put them within reach of reclaiming the WCC regular season title.
“I told them we had played a good defensive first half,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. “[Matthew] Dellavedova hit some reall, really tough shots because we didn’t do a good job bottling him up like we had prior to that. I reminded them our defense had been good, our rebounding had been good, and for the most part we had taken some pretty good shots.”
Gonzaga (24-2, 11-0 WCC) completed the sweep of their rival and is now two games up in the loss column over Saint Mary’s and with only five games remaining for the Bulldogs, it all but assures them the return of the WCC title.
Saint Mary’s (21-5, 10-2) saw their season-high nine-game winning streak snapped and struggled clearing long rebounds all night.
“You can’t come out in a game like that against a good team and spot them 10 points to start the half,” Saint Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett said. “It’s a tough way to try to get a win.”
The Gaels have four games remaining of the conference schedule and are still in search of an another victory for the NCAA Tournament resume. BYU comes in next Thursday and Creighton the following Saturday.
Gonzaga trailed at halftime for only the second time this season and they came out on fire in the second half. Gary Bell, Jr., who had been near silent in the first half, burst for eight of Gonzaga’s first 14 points in the second half and none bigger than his three after two offensive rebounds to give the Zags a 46-37 lead.
“He takes it if it’s there and if it’s not, he doesn’t force it,” Few said of Bell. “Today it was there.”
“We came out way more aggressive,” Bell said. “I feel like in the first half, we got away from our game plan a little bit but in the second half we went straight to our game plan.”
Gonzaga went on a 20-4 run to begin the half and went up 52-37.
Saint Mary’s began to creep back into the game behind Stephen Holt, who hit back-to-back shots to bring it back to a 10-point Gonzaga lead. Dellavedova, who had been electric in the first half, hit a three to cut the Gonzaga lead to 56-52 but the comeback ended there.
They were Dellavedova’s only points of the second half. He finished with 22 points on 7-for-15 shooting.
With the score 61-54, Gonzaga’s Mike Hart picked up an offensive rebound off a missed Kevin Pangos three and the ball found its way to Bell again for another three.
“Mike Hart is amazing,” Few said. “He impacts the game in so many ways that don’t show up on a stat sheet… He’s invaluable.”
Bell had 16 of his team-high 20 points in the second half. His backcourt mate Kevin Pangos had 18 points after having 22 points in the last meeting.
The guard combination has been the difference for Gonzaga. In the Bulldogs’ two losses, Pangos and Bell have averaged to combine 13.5 points on 30 percent shooting. For the season, they average 20.7 points on 42 percent shooting.
Saint Mary’s struggled in the second half and shot a mere 33 percent and had only twi players in double figure scoring (Dellavedova, Holt 17).
Gonzaga pounded the ball inside against the undersized Saint Mary’s frontcourt and were led by Kelly Olynyk. Dellavedova had picked up his second foul with 6:38 left in the half and Gonzaga hit the fastbreak and capitalized with a three from Olynyk to give the Bulldogs a 26-17 lead.
Olynyk had 12 of his 17 points in the first half.
But Saint Mary’s answered back and rode a wave of threes from Dellavedova. The senior guard scored five straight for Saint Mary’s to bring the score to 27-22.
James Walked III hit a baseline jumper to cut the Gonzaga lead to 27-24 but Pangos answered at the other end with a three from the corner.
Dellavedova came back down and hit a three to answer Pangos. After a defensive stand by the Gaels, Dellavedova took the ball down the left side and hit s step back three tying the game at 30 with 44 second left in the half.
He hit five threes in the first half and scored 19 points on 6-for-9 shooting.
Saint Mary’s got another stop and this time it was Jordan Giusti from the right corner hitting a three to give the Gaels a 33-30 lead with two seconds left.
It was the first time since Dec. 5 that Gonzaga had trailed at halftime.
Bet you didn’t know…
Yes, you can challenge a play in basketball.
With 13:48 left in the first half, Beau Levesque was called for a flagrant foul and sent to Pangos to the line. Bennett challenged who the shooter should have been.
After the referees checked and confirmed Pangos was the shooter, Saint Mary’s was charged one of their 30-second timeouts.