Bulldogs All Alone Atop WCC
March 1, 2003
SAN DIEGO (AP) - Tony Skinner scored a career-high 23 points as Gonzaga University held on for its fifth West Coast conference regular-season title in six years with a 72-69 win over the University of San Diego on Saturday night.
Gonzaga (22-7, 12-2), which had already clinched the No. 1 seed in next weekend's WCC Tournament, blew most of an 11-point lead in the final three minutes before beating the Toreros for the ninth straight time and the 11th time in 12 games. The Bulldogs also ran their record at the Jenny Craig Pavilion to 9-0. GU is 5-0 against USD, including the last two WCC Tournament semifinal wins over the Toreros, and 4-0 in other WCC Tournament games the past two seasons at the JCP.
San Diego (16-11, 10-4), which needed to win for a share of the league title, had its four-game winning streak snapped.
The Bulldogs led by double digits for most of the second half and held a 70-59 lead with 3:27 left. But San Diego came back, cutting the lead to 71-67 on Matt Delzell's 3-pointer with 51.5 seconds left.
After Jason Blair hit two free throws with 16.2 seconds remaining, Delzell stole the in-bounds pass and missed a 3-pointer with three seconds left. The loose ball was batted around toward center court, Blake Stepp corralled a USD pass and fed Josh Reisman who was fouled and made the front end of the two-shot foul for the 72-69 lead. Gonzaga pressed the inbounds play and the Toreros were unable to get off a game-tying shot.
Skinner, in bettering his previous career high of 17 against the University of Kentucky in the Maui Invitational, hit 8-of-12 shots from the field, including 6-of-7 from 3-point range.
Stepp added 12 points and Cory Violette had 11 for the Bulldogs, who
won despite shooting only 41.5 percent from the floor. Stepp, who missed better than nine minutes of the second half Thursday at Santa Clara University after going to the bench with his fourth foul, missed nearly six minutes of the second half when picking up his fourth foul on an offensive foul call with 12:55 remaining.
The Bulldogs seemed ready to put the game away with an 11-4 spurt that built the lead to 66-52 with 8:08 remaining. But the Toreros, who scored nine straight points from the free throw line in a stretch of 7:29, got Delzell's trey from NBA-range at the top of the circle with 3:06 to go to give USD its first field goal in 5:55 and cut the Gonzaga lead to 70-62.
Gonzaga went just 1-for-6 from the free throw line until Reisman's throw in the waning seconds, and the Toreros took advantage to cut the margin to 71-69 on Blair's two throws with 16 seconds left to set up the dramatic finish.
Blair and Jason Keep led San Diego with 14 points apiece.
With the WCC regular-season coming to a close Saturday, the first-round pairings for the WCC Tournament that begins Friday at the JCP have been set. No. 6 Loyola Marymount University will face No. 7 University of Portland at 6 p.m. on Friday night, followed by No. 5 Saint Mary's College against No. 8 Santa Clara University. Saturday's action will have No. 3 University of San Francisco taking on the LMU-Portland winner at 6 p.m. followed by No. 4 Pepperdine University taking on the winner of SMC-SCU. Sunday's 6:30 p.m. semifinal will match USD against USF, LMU or Portland, while Gonzaga will play the 9 p.m. semifinal to be televised on ESPN against Pepperdine, SMC or SCU.
The championship game is set for Monday, March 10, at 9 p.m. on ESPN. Gonzaga is seeking its fifth straight WCC Tournament title and with it the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
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