No. 8 Gonzaga Wins WCC Opener At Saint Mary's, 68-60

Jan. 7, 2006

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MORAGA, Calif. (AP) - Coach Mark Few refers to opponents' complete focus on Adam Morrison and his points total as an obsession.

It has to be, otherwise the Gonzaga star will go off for 50.

Morrison scored 17 of his 25 points in the first half and the eighth-ranked Bulldogs overcame a poor second half to avenge a road loss to Saint Mary's last season, beating the Gaels 68-60 Saturday night in the West Coast Conference opener for both teams.

"We know the fans down here are pretty much front-runners and they came to see us play, so we tried to put on a show," said Morrison, the nation's top scorer. "They probably couldn't tell you their own starting lineup, but they could tell you ours. We came down here to try to blow them out of the water."

Instead, the Zags got another close one with their top WCC rival.

J.P. Batista added 12 points and seven rebounds and Derek Raivio scored five straight points late and 13 of his 16 - including 8-of-8 free throws - in the final 5:17 for the Zags (11-3), who won for the seventh time in eight games despite missing 15 of their first 17 shots after halftime and going scoreless for more than seven minutes.

"This is a great way to start off the league season against a club playing its best basketball," Few said. "We found a way to get it done and we did it on the defensive end."

Morrison shot 9-for-19 and had a tough time in the second half getting open looks against constant pressure from John Winston.

Daniel Kickert had 18 points and six rebounds despite foul trouble, including a three-point play with 5:26 left to pull Saint Mary's (7-6) within 49-47. But the Gaels then gave up two free throws and a 3-pointer to Raivio in a 7-0 spurt by the Bulldogs.

Ian O'Leary's three-point play for Saint Mary's at 13:47 pulled the Gaels within 40-35, then Winston hit a 3 at 12:03 to make it 40-38. Winston's physical defense made it difficult for Morrison to find a groove and the Saint Mary's guard often beat Morrison to spots when moving without the ball and denied him whenever possible.

 

 

"I wanted to stay with him and make him work," said Winston, who had 11 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals. "We knew what they were running and guys were talking out there."

Chants of "Beat the Zags!" began about a half-hour before tipoff in the overflowing 3,500-seat McKeon Pavilion, where students sported stick-on mustaches to mock Morrison's now famous facial hair. His home fans do the same thing out of support.

Saint Mary's, which had won six of seven after a four-game losing streak and beat Nevada on Dec. 31 to knock the Wolf Pack out of the rankings, shot just 33.9 percent to 38.5 for Gonzaga.

Brett Collins, who scored a career-high 31 points in the 89-80 win over Nevada, started the game 1-for-7 and finished 2-for-10 with five points. He also struggled against Morrison, leading Gaels coach Randy Bennett to go with Winston for the final 20 minutes.

"I think it's a different game if we make some shots," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "I was pleased with our guys' effort, especially in the second half. They're difficult if you're playing from behind at the end of the game. They get to the foul line."

The Zags certainly were fired up for their return to the site of one of their two conference losses last season - they'll get another chance at San Francisco on Jan. 23.

This has become quite the rivalry, too.

The Gaels upset then-No. 11 Gonzaga 89-81 here a year ago Sunday for their first win over a ranked opponent since 1974, ending a 17-game losing streak to the Zags. It also ended Gonzaga's 17-game conference win streak.

The Gaels made a school-record 16 3-pointers in that victory, then blew a 12-point halftime lead in Spokane on Feb. 3, shooting 7-for-29 after the break in a 68-63 loss.

Saint Mary's finished second in the WCC behind Gonzaga and earned its first NCAA berth in eight seasons, losing to Southern Illinois. The Zags earned a hard-fought 80-67 win in the WCC tournament final over Saint Mary's.

"Everywhere we go, people come to see us, so it gets us pumped up and ready to go, especially after a loss last year," Morrison said.

But the Gaels have a different team this season after losing four senior starters.

Kickert scored five straight points midway through the first half to give the Gaels their first lead, 19-18, but Gonzaga responded with a 10-0 run on the way to a 36-25 halftime lead and held Saint Mary's scoreless over the final 5:03.

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