LAS VEGAS (AP) — Andrew Nembhard scored 19 points, Rasir Bolton added 18 and top-ranked Gonzaga outlasted No. 17 Saint Mary’s 82-69 Tuesday night to win its eighth West Coast Conference tournament title in nine years.
The Zags (26-3) had one big run in the first half to build a 10-point lead in its 25th straight WCC title game, but spent much of the night trying to shake the gritty Gaels.
Gonzaga finally did it, making nine shots during a stretch in the second half to pull away after Saint Mary’s had cut the lead to two.
The win all but locks up a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the Zags.
The Gaels (25-7) managed to slow the game’s pace to its liking, preventing the Zags from getting out in transition for easy baskets. Gonzaga still found a way to outscore Saint Mary’s, making 16 of 23 shots in the second half to win its 20th WCC tournament title.
Logan Johnson led Saint Mary’s with 21 points and Tommy Kuhse added 15.
The Zags and Gaels have turned the WCC tournament into a running off-Strip show since it moved to Las Vegas in 2009. The teams have met nine times in the title game at Orleans Arena and one or the other has won the championship every year. The Zags have 10 titles over the 13-year run, the Gaels three (the last in 2019).
The rivals split during the regular season: Gonzaga ran roughshod over Saint Mary’s in Spokane, Washington, and the Gaels bullied the Zags for a 10-point win in Moraga, California.
The go-round with a title on the line started as a defensive slog, both teams putting up difficult shots and making sloppy mistakes against the pressure. But Gonzaga revved up its smooth-moving machine midway through the first half, going on a 15-4 run to go up 29-18.
The Gaels made a short push, but the Zags pushed back for a 38-28 halftime lead. And they did it with big men Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren combining for four points on 2-of-9 shooting.
Saint Mary’s bogged the game down again to start the second half, turning it into a half-court duel. The Gaels won the efficiency battle, methodically working for good shots to cut Gonzaga’s lead to 52-50 midway through.
Gonzaga found the right gear again after that, hitting nine straight shots to push the lead to 71-59.
Saint Mary’s had no answer this time.
Saint Mary’s: Played at the pace it wanted to and shot the ball decently, yet couldn’t keep up with the Zags. A disappointing loss, but the Gaels should be a lock to make the NCAA Tournament after missing the bracket last season.
Gonzaga: Had to grind it out at times, but still shot 58%. The Zags also showed off their depth, getting 53 combined points from Nembhard, Bolton and Julian Strawther.
Saint Mary’s: Is headed to the NCAA Tournament, likely as a middle seed.
Gonzaga: Should get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, possibly No. 1 overall.
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