SPOKANE, Wash. (AP)Drew Timme scored 19 points and No. 12 Gonzaga earned a share of the West Coast Conference regular-season title with a 77-68 win over No. 15 Saint Mary’s on Saturday night.
Anton Watson had 17 points and Malachi Smith added 13 off the bench for the Bulldogs, who have won or shared the conference title in 11 straight seasons. Gonzaga (25-5, 14-2) also reached the 25-win mark for the 16th season in a row – and avenged a loss to the Gaels earlier this month in Moraga.
”It was the whole nation watching and we made sure that we backed our name and made everybody respect us,” Watson said. ”We know what happened with LMU here at home and everybody kind of looked down on us, but we just had to keep a tight circle.”
Logan Johnson led the Gaels (25-6, 14-2) with 27 points after a 29-point performance against Pacific in the team’s last game.
Because the teams shared the regular-season title, the WCC will use the NCAA’s NET rankings to determine the top seed for the conference tournament. That’s expected to be determined Sunday. Entering Saturday’s matchup, Saint Mary’s was ranked No. 7 and Gonzaga No. 10 in the NET rankings.
Should the higher seed advance in every round of the conference tourney, the Gaels will face No. 4 seed Loyola Marymount – the only team to beat both Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s this season – in the semifinal round.
Saint Mary’s outscored Gonzaga in the second half, but couldn’t overcome a 13-point halftime deficit. A 3-pointer by Joshua Jefferson cut the lead to five with 3:03 to play, but Watson’s dunk and four free throws by Gonzaga pushed the game back to double digits with 1:22 remaining.
Two free throws from Johnson cut the lead to six with 29.8 seconds to play, but a dunk by Timme and free throws from Julian Strawther iced the game.
Gonzaga broke an early deadlock with Saint Mary’s to take an eight-point lead after Randy Bennett turned to his bench for the first time with 11:42 remaining in the first.
The Gaels got within three points, but Smith scored six of his eight first-half points to help Gonzaga close the final six minutes of the half on a 15-7 run.
”I have a lot of confidence in Malachi. He’s never afraid. The bigger the moment, the better he is,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. ”It’s a nice luxury to have those guys.”
The Zags led by as many as 19 before taking a 13-point lead to the locker room. Saint Mary’s had three separate three-minute stretches without a field goal in the first.
The Zags held Aidan Mahaney scoreless for the first 25 minutes, but Mahaney threatened to be the star for the second straight game. The freshman scored eight points in the second half to close the lead to six, but Gonzaga held him without a field goal the rest of the way.
”Through the post was working for them with Timme. We totally expected that, but didn’t do a good job there,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. ”They always test you on your on-ball coverage.
”There’s a reason they lead the country in scoring every year.”
ESPN’s College GameDay returned to Spokane for the first time since 2009 with students camping overnight in below-freezing temperatures to be first inside when doors opened at 6 a.m.
”It was the best environment of the year,” show host Rece Davis said. ”Really, I’d be hard pressed to think of one that was better in the last few years. … They wanted to show off their passion for their team and their school and their city, and they did this as well as any crowd I can remember in my now 19 years on the show.”
Gonzaga: The Zags improved to 9-2 against Saint Mary’s when both teams are ranked and are 5-4 against Quad 1 opponents. With the win, the Zags won 25 games for the 16th consecutive season, breaking a tie with Kansas for the longest streak of all time.
Saint Mary’s: The loss snapped the Gaels’ four-game winning streak and dropped them to 2-2 against Quad 1 opponents ahead of the WCC Tournament. Saint Mary’s has finished tied for second or higher in the WCC in 16 of the last 19 seasons.
Saint Mary’s: Will play in the WCC semifinals on March 6 in Las Vegas.
Gonzaga: Home against Chicago State on Wednesday night.
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