Gonzaga Ties For First With Saint Mary's With Overtime Thriller
Feb. 25, 2011
MORAGA, Calif. (AP) - Gonzaga coach Mark Few huddled his players at midcourt, pushing, shoving and screaming in a playful jest of celebration that seemed so far away only weeks ago.
Another West Coast Conference title within reach.
Sam Dower scored 21 points, Elias Harris added 18 and Gonzaga moved into a first-place tie in the WCC with an 89-85 overtime victory over Saint Mary's on Thursday night that keeps alive their hopes of building on a decade of dominance in the league.
"We want to keep that streak going," Dower said in a wild, rowdy Zags locker room that had all the makings of title toast. "We don't want to end it while we're here."
They made sure it didn't end on Thursday.
The Bulldogs (20-9, 10-3) overcame a rowdy road crowd and held off the Gaels' incredible push from 10 points down in another thrilling contest between the teams.
"We pride ourselves in winning league championships," Few said. "That's what we've done. That's our motivation. It doesn't really matter to us what anybody thinks or says. We win league championships and go to the NCAA tournament. That's what our goals are every year."
This was supposed to be the Gaels' year.
Now they'll likely have to share any regular-season title.
Matthew Dellavedova had 24 points and Rob Jones scored 21 for Saint Mary's (22-7, 10-3), which has lost two straight conference games and will need a win over Portland this weekend to settle for at least a share of the conference crown. The Gaels can claim an outright title only if Gonzaga loses to San Diego, the worst team in the conference.
"I'm not down on our guys," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "We battled and played hard. You can't always win."
The Gaels beat Gonzaga 73-71 earlier this season and could've claimed their first outright regular-season WCC championship since 1989 with a victory over Gonzaga. Instead, the Bulldogs showed why they've been so dominant.
They always seem to win when it counts.
They scored the first five points in overtime and relied on their defense to carry them. The Gaels came back within a point and had a chance to take the lead, but Mickey McConnell missed a contested runner in the lane with 12 seconds left in overtime. Robert Sacre and Dower followed with four made free throws to seal the win.
"It was that close. These teams are pretty close," Bennett said.
All the Saint Mary's faithful who came out for this one left disappointed.
Fans stood for every second inside jam-packed McKeon Pavilion, squeezing in the aisles, leaning on walls and even watching on televisions near concession stands just to get a glimpse. The ear-piecing roars and rants made it tough to hear whistles, let alone the coaches screaming on the sidelines.
The play on the court lived up to all the hype, too.
A frenetic, fast-paced game complete with acrobatic dunks and soaring shots - not to mention a few chest bumps afterward - made for an offensive outpouring that became a highlight show. The closest either came to taking a big lead in the first half was when Saint Mary's went ahead 24-17 on Jones' 3-pointer, only to see Gonzaga answer with seven straight points.
The Bulldogs began to pull away early in the second half, taking a 55-45 lead on Marquise Carter's 3-pointer that had a Saint Mary's crowd that came to toast a title stunned and silent - if only briefly. The Gaels climbed back quickly and had the arena rocking, with Dellavedova delivering a corner 3-pointer that tied the score at 65-all with seven minutes remaining in regulation.
Jones and Carter traded 3-pointers with more than a minute to play in regulation to keep the score tied. Each team had desperation 3-pointers with the clock ticking down in the final seconds, sending the game to overtime, where the Bulldogs flexed their muscles.
They always seem to in this league.
The Bulldogs have made the NCAA tournament 12 straight years out of the conference where it has reigned supreme. Now they have a chance to continue the incredible streak few teams have ever matched.
Gonzaga's 10 straight regular-season titles are tied with UNLV (Big West, 1983-92) and Connecticut (Yankee, 1951-60) for the second-longest streak in major college basketball. UCLA won 13 consecutive titles - 12 in the Pac-8, then one in the Pac-10 - from 1967-79.
"For us to overcome all that animosity and all that drama and maybe win the West Coast Conference, it feels good," Dower said. "I feel honored to be on this team."
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