Gonzaga-Saint Mary's (Cal) Preview
By CHRIS ALTRUDA
(AP) -- If Gonzaga is playing Saint Mary's in March, it must be for the West Coast Conference tournament title.
The teams square off in the final for the fourth straight year to determine the conference champion and automatic entrant to the NCAA tournament Monday night at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
The 24th-ranked and second-seeded Bulldogs (25-5) beat Saint Mary's (26-5) in 2009 and 2011 to claim the WCC title, while the Gaels, the No. 1 seed, posted a victory over Gonzaga to win the 2010 edition. The Bulldogs were the lone entrant from the conference in the field of 68 last March, but both teams are in solid shape to make the field this year.
Gonzaga is on the cusp of its 14th straight NCAA tournament appearance following a 77-58 victory over BYU on Saturday. Freshman Kevin Pangos scored 30 points for the Bulldogs, who are in the WCC title game for the 15th straight year and 18th overall.
"A great win for us because we beat a very, very good basketball team, an NCAA tournament team," said Pangos, the WCC's newcomer of the year who averages a team-high 14.0 points.
The freshman guard has shot well from 3-point range of late, making 14 of 23 attempts over his last four games. He scored 27 against then-No. 16 Saint Mary's in a 73-59 home victory Feb. 9.
Saint Mary's has won three straight since its loss at then-No. 16 Murray State in a Bracketbusters game, reaching the WCC final by defeating San Francisco 83-78 on Saturday night. Clint Steindl made six 3-pointers and finished with 19 points and Matthew Dellavedova scored 12 of his 17 in the second half for the Gaels, who took control with a 17-7 run midway through the second half.
"These two teams have played a lot of times the last five years," coach Randy Bennett said. "We know each other pretty well and it'll be a tough game. It'll come down to who does the job rebounding and who does the job defensively."
The Gaels routed then-No. 21 Gonzaga 83-62 at home Jan. 12 as Dellavedova hit five 3-pointers and finished with 26 points.
Gonzaga's hopes of winning may lie with 7-foot center Robert Sacre, who scored only four points in the loss to Saint Mary's but had 12 points and nine rebounds in the victory over the Gaels. The senior had 12 points, eight rebounds and four blocks in helping Gonzaga win last year's title game 75-63.
Dellavedova has averaged 18.4 points in eight games versus Gonzaga, scoring at least 20 in the last four.
Updated March 5, 2012