Gonzaga secures NCAA berth; Saint Mary's hopes for at-large


Normally, the big story is about the team that wins a conference tournament.

Not this year.

After falling to second-seeded Gonzaga 75-63 on Monday night in the West Coast Conference Tournament championship game at Orleans Arena, top-seeded Saint Mary's is about to squirm for the next six days while the NCAA men's selection committee decides whether the Gaels are worthy of an at-large tournament bid.

Meanwhile, following its win in front of a raucous crowd of 7,146, Gonzaga can take its title home to Spokane, Wash., and kick back, waiting to see where the committee sends it.

"It's a great feeling knowing come Sunday, you're not going to be sitting there sweating," said guard Steven Gray, who in addition to his WCC championship T-shirt and hat was sporting four stitches over his left eye as a souvenir from a first-half elbow.

The Gaels (24-8) will play one more game this week, hosting Weber State on Friday. Coach Randy Bennett said he's not sure what a win would do for his team as far as getting one final opportunity to impress the committee.

"I don't know what they look for," said Bennett, whose team's chances for victory Monday were severely compromised when forwards Mitchell Young and Rob Jones fouled out within a 36-second span with six minutes to play and Gonzaga leading 58-53. "It is what it is. We've had a good year. We lost a few down the stretch, but we have another game to play, and that's what I'm focusing on."

Gonzaga coach Mark Few said Saint Mary's is worthy of inclusion. So did WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich, who will be a member of the selection committee next year.

"There were two NCAA teams on the floor (Monday)," Few said.

Zaninovich said: "I haven't seen every other team being considered, but I thought (SMC) had done enough to get in before this game."

But did they? The Gaels have just one win against teams in the top 50 of the Rating Percentage Index, and that came Nov. 15 at home against St. John's. The Red Storm were hardly a top-50 team then, though they are currently No. 22 after being No. 14 last week.

"They say you're supposed to count November, and their win over St. John's looks better and better," he said.

If that's the case, the Gaels' 74-66 loss to San Diego on Feb. 11 would work against it. The Toreros finished 6-24 and are No. 317 in the RPI.

Saint Mary's began Monday ranked No. 44 in the RPI. Being in the top 50 probably works in the Gaels' favor at this juncture, but it doesn't guarantee anything.

Gonzaga, which had a 62 RPI before the title game, might have had a tougher time convincing the committee of its at-large credentials had it lost. But the team's recent surge, capped by Monday's win, ultimately took it out of the committee's hands.

"I haven't been more proud of a group of guys," Few said. "From where we were to where we are now has been an incredible journey. It's taught me a lot. It's taught me about the resilience of kids and the team. When you believe by taking it step by step and day by day getting better, great things will happen."

In mid-December, Gonzaga was 4-5 and struggling. But the Zags eventually found their form defensively, and from that came an offensive rhythm that allowed them to finish with a flourish, winning nine straight.

"We basically put our head down, didn't listen to anybody who said we weren't going to do it this year and buckled down," center Robert Sacre said. "Coach has been harping on us that we're winners, and I think we showed that."

WOMEN

■ No. 1 Gonzaga 72, No. 2 Saint Mary's 46 -- The Bulldogs (28-4) had 42 points in the paint and 14 fast-break points, rolling over the Gaels in the WCC women's championship game.

Gonzaga was led by Courtney Vandersloot with 18 points and Katelan Redmon with 17.

The Gonzaga defense was stifling, holding Saint Mary's to just 27 percent shooting, and the Gaels made just 1 of 15 3-point attempts. Danielle Mauldin led Saint Mary's (19-12) with 19 points.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

 

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