Gonzaga (24-6) at Saint Mary's-CA (21-9)

03/01/2014 7:56 AM

03/01/2014 8:07 AM

GAME NOTES: The West Coast Conference regular season will come to an end on Saturday night at McKeon Pavilion, as the league-champion Gonzaga Bulldogs take on the Saint Mary's Gaels.

Gonzaga stumbled with back-to-back losses last week but was finally able to clinch its second straight WCC regular-season title (and 15th in the last 17 seasons) on Thursday night with a 70-53 triumph at Pacific and has earned a coveted double-bye into the semifinals of the conference tournament. The Bulldogs are now 24-6 overall and 14-3 in league play, although they have been simply modest on the road at 6-4.

Saint Mary's has been stellar overall this season at 21-9, but it currently sits in just fourth place in the WCC with an 11-6 conference mark. The Gaels are winners of two straight, taking down Santa Clara last Saturday (76-54) before downing Portland on Thursday (70-61) to improve to an excellent 15-2 at home.

The teams met for the first time this season back on Jan. 2, with Gonzaga winning easily at home, 73-51. The Bulldogs have now won four straight over the Gaels to improve to 58-27 in the all-time series.

The Bulldogs made a statement early in their most recent contest, running out to a 12-point halftime lead over Pacific before putting the game on cruise control from there to capture the WCC title. Although they shot just a modest 42 percent from the field, they held Pacific to only 30.9 percent shooting. Kevin Pangos scored a game-high 18 points, Drew Barham shot 4-of-6 from 3- point range off the bench for 17 points and Przemek Karnowski tallied nine points and nine rebounds.

On the season, Gonzaga's offensive attack has been outstanding, as it scores 77.3 ppg while ranking eighth in the nation in field-goal percentage (.495) and ninth in 3-point percentage (.399), and on top of its stellar shooting it also plays great defense, yielding just 65.7 ppg. Pangos (14.8 ppg, 4.0 apg) has knocked down 75 3-pointer at a 41.4 percent clip and has also made 89.1 percent of his free-throw tries. Sam Dower (14.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg) and Karnowski (10.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.8 bpg) are an impressive frontcourt duo, and Gary Bell Jr. brings 11.2 ppg to the table.

The Gaels took a four-point lead into intermission versus Portland last week, and while they were never able to extend their advantage to double figures, they also never coughed up the lead. They shot 44.4 percent from the field in the triumph, including 11-of-29 from beyond the arc, with Stephen Holt's 26 points leading the way. Brad Waldow tallied 14 points and nine rebounds, Kerry Carter scored 12 points on 4-of-8 from 3-point range and Beau Levesque put up eight points, six boards, four assists and four steals.

Saint Mary's has been impressive on both ends of the floor this season, shooting 46.1 percent from the field for 73.2 ppg, while allowing just 65.2 ppg on 44.5 percent shooting, and it also boasts a strong +4.5 rebounding margin. Waldow anchors to paint, shooting 57.9 percent from the floor en route to 15.9 ppg to go with 7.9 rpg and 1.4 bpg, but he's attempted 213 free throws to just 60.1 percent efficiency. Holt scores 15.1 ppg and has more than twice as many assists (124) as turnovers (57), while James Walker III (9.9 ppg), Levesque (9.8 ppg) and Carter (9.6 ppg) are all on the doorstep of double figures.

While it's possible Gonzaga could let off the gas pedal a bit having already clinched the top seed in next week's conference tournament, it still needs to rack up quality wins for its NCAA Tournament resume. Even if the Bulldogs give their all, they'll be hard-pressed to take down a Gaels' squad that has played very well at home.

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