Gonzaga motivated by preseason poll snub entering WCC tourney

Updated February 28, 2018 - 7:45 pm

It’s not a surprise that Gonzaga is again the top seed heading into this week’s West Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament at Orleans Arena.

Gonzaga has dominated the conference the past two decades, but the nine coaches in the WCC not named Mark Few made it clear that they thought the Bulldogs were taking a step back this season after they tabbed Saint Mary’s as the unanimous choice to win the conference back in October.

The Bulldogs proved to the preseason voters that the WCC still runs through them after winning their 19th regular-season title in the past 21 years, including six consecutive.

There was still a chance Saturday that Saint Mary’s could earn a share of the conference crown, but Gonzaga didn’t allow that after defeating BYU to improve to 17-1 in league play.

Last year’s NCAA tournament runner-up doesn’t like to share. Sixteen of Gonzaga’s 19 league titles were won outright.

Gonzaga (27-4), the No. 7 ranked team in the nation, took care of business during the regular season, but they’re not the heavy favorite to cruise through the tournament.

San Diego gave the Bulldogs a scare last week at home before falling 77-72. The Gaels defeated the Bulldogs 74-71 in Spokane, Washington, on Jan. 18.

A big reason the Gaels (27-4, 16-2) were the preseason favorite was because they were returning the majority of their team. Saint Mary’s senior center Jock Landale was voted the WCC’s MVP on Tuesday.

If it weren’t for a hiccup-loss at San Francisco, Saint Mary’s would be at the top of the conference standings with Gonzaga.

Saint Mary’s, the No. 22 team in the AP Top 25 poll, will look to meet Gonzaga in the tournament final once again. The top two teams in the conference have met in the finale seven of the past nine years.

The BYU Cougars (22-9, 11-7) will be the third seed for the fourth straight year, but their seven league losses is the most they’ve had in a season since joining the WCC six years ago.

The WCC men’s tournament starts Friday with two first-round matchups. The top four seeds begin play Saturday in the quarterfinals. The women’s tournament begins Thursday with four games.

Women’s preview

Favorites

Gonzaga

The Bulldogs dominated the conference regular season with a 17-1 record, the first time a WCC team has won that many games.

Gonzaga captured its 13th regular-season title in the past 14 years. The defending conference tournament champions and No. 1 seed, Gonzaga, will play Friday against either Pepperdine or Santa Clara.

Saint Mary’s

The No. 2 seed Gaels were the only team to defeat Gonzaga during conference play after taking down the league champions 72-56 on Feb. 10.

Saint Mary’s led the WCC in field goal percentage (.480) and was second from 3-point range (.331). The Gaels open the tournament Friday against the winner of the Pacific-Portland matchup.

Sleepers

BYU

The Cougars could make a surprise run to the championship game, with signature victories over Loyola Marymount and Saint Mary’s. BYU was the top team in the WCC in field goal percentage defense (.359).

LMU

Loyola Marymount ended the regular season on a three game-winning streak, with victories over San Francisco, Santa Clara and Portland. Cheyanne Wallace and Gabby Green both averaged over 13 points per game for the Lions.

Contact Gilbert Manzano at gmanzano@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GManzano24 on Twitter.

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