LAS VEGAS — In the latest installment of their simmering rivalry, Gonzaga again did to St. Mary’s what it had done the previous two games this season.
It was herky-jerky and not in the least aesthetic, but the Zags controlled the Gaels in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference Tournament Monday night, winning 70-54.
The victory puts them in the WCC final against Brigham Young and all but assures a 16th consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament, inasmuch as the Gaels are ranked No. 60 in the latest RPI computer rankings and BYU is in the top 50.
Gonzaga (27-6) won the first two games against St. Mary’s by a total of 50 points, and by midway through the second half Monday, led this one by 18. On a night when their big guys struggled, the Zags were led by guards Gary Bell Jr. (14 points) and David Stockton (21 points), who managed pace and hit 12 of their first 17 shots combined.
Down 31-20 at half, St. Mary’s made a brief surge after intermission, creeping to 33-27 after its first three of the game, by guard Kerry Carter. But back came the Zags, and Kevin Pangos’ first shot attempt of the game caught all of the rim before going down, a three.
Bell, a key figure all evening, drove for a score, and after Stockton nudged the ball away from Paul McCoy, Stockton banked in his own runner for a 40-27 Zags lead at the first television timeout of the second half.
St. Mary’s closed to 40-31 before the Zags put the hammer down. Stockton, effective in this tournament driving to the hole, did it again, and was fouled. He missed the free throw, but the Zags retained possession and Bell, out of Kentridge High, rang up a three to make it 45-31 with 14:32 left.
In a first half without rhythm, Gonzaga did a methodical trudge to a 13-4 lead in the first eight minutes, as St. Mary’s offensive problems against GU this season continued.
The Gaels, who had just 27 field goals in the first two games — both blowout victories by Gonzaga — added a mere three in the first 12 minutes, making it 30 in 92 minutes in 2013-14, or less than one per three minutes. Bell gave the Zags an early boost, hitting a corner trey for a 7-2 lead, and moments later, driving for consecutive baskets to push the GU lead to 13-4.
St. Mary’s got much improved play from center Brad Waldow (just four of 16 field goals in the first two games), but had little to complement him. Waldow hit all four of his attempts for nine points, but the Gaels combined for only five field goals around him before intermission.
Kyle Dranginis’ trey pushed Gonzaga’s lead into double digits, 18-7. Twice St. Mary’s cut it to nine, but rarely generated any consistent offense, only once scoring consecutive baskets.
Sam Dower downed six consecutive free throws before the break to give him 21 in a row in the tournament, and he led Gonzaga with 10 points in a half in which Pangos didn’t get off a shot.
BYU 79, San Francisco 77 (OT)
Tyler Haws knocked down a pair of free throws with 15.8 seconds to play in overtime to push BYU ahead for good as it defeated San Franciscoin the second semifinal game.
Haws, who had a tough time shooting the ball from the field on the night (5- of-19), was a perfect 14-of-14 at the free-throw line for the second-seeded Cougars (23-10) as they advanced to the conference title game for the first time in their three-year history in the league.
Haws ended up leading all scorers with 24 points, followed by Kyle Collinsworth with 18 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. Also with a double-double for BYU was Eric Mika with 11 points and 10 boards, while Anson Winder and Matt Carlino pitched in with 15 and 11 points, respectively.
The third-seeded Dons (21-11) were led by Cole Dickerson with 20 points and 10 rebounds, followed by Matt Glover with 14 points before he picked up his fifth personal foul. Off the bench, Tim Derksen accounted for 11 points, while Avry Holmes responded with 10 points, seven assists and four steals in the setback.
The Cougars opened the contest on a 12-4 run and led by double digits less than seven minutes in, but even after shooting 50.0 percent from the field through the first 20 minutes, BYU actually trailed by two at the break, 37-35.
Late in the second half the Dons put together an 8-0 run to knot the score at 64-64. Both teams went cold down the stretch, with the Cougars working to take what should have been the last shot in the waning moments, but they had their attempt blocked, resulting in the game going to overtime.
BYU was held scoreless for more than six minutes at the end of regulation.
The Dons fell behind right away in the bonus session and didn’t convert a field goal attempt until the period was half over. On the other side, Haws had six of the first eight points for the Cougars and then stepped to the charity stripe late to secure the win.
In addition to owning a 45-35 advantage on the glass, the Cougars also outscored USF at the free-throw line by a 24-12 margin.
With the victory, BYU advances to the title game against Gonzaga which defeated Saint Mary’s earlier this evening in the other semifinal matchup, 70-54.