No. 7 Men's Basketball Downs San Diego, 87-79
March 3, 2002
By BERNIE WILSON
Stepp, Gonzaga's other guard, made a 3-pointer from 25 feet with 51.2 seconds left and finished with a career-high 26 points as the No. 7 Bulldogs beat San Diego 87-79 Sunday night to reach the West Coast Conference tournament championship game for the fifth straight season.
Dickau, the conference player of the year, didn't exactly have an off night, finishing with 22 points. But he wasn't tearing it up, either, and Gonzaga's big men were in foul trouble.
"With our big guys going down early, the guards needed to step it up a little more," Stepp said. "I was looking a little bit more to take it to the basket. I felt good."
Good enough to score 11 points in the last 10:15.
Gonzaga (28-3), which is trying for its fourth straight conference tournament championship and automatic NCAA berth, will meet the winner of the St. Mary's-Pepperdine semifinal in Monday night's title game.
The second-seeded Zags, who have reached the NCAA regionals three straight seasons, tied the school record for victories, set by the 1998-99 team that reached the West Regional finals before losing to eventual national champion Connecticut.
Stepp has been slowed this season while recovering from surgery in the late spring to repair a bone degeneration in one knee.
"It's been a hard year on Blake," coach Mark Few said. "He's still not 100 percent yet. To come out and have an effort like this, it's tremendous."
And it left San Diego frustrated again.
"At certain times, teams need a player to surface. Blake Stepp did that
tonight," Toreros coach Brad Holland said.
"We seem to compete at their level for a significant part of the game and come up short," Holland said.
Dickau missed several 3s, including an airball during a Gonzaga run early in the second half that erased a 47-40 San Diego lead. Toreros fans taunted him for his long-distance miss the rest of the game.
Although Gonzaga beat San Diego for the third straight year in the tournament semifinals, there was nothing easy about the Bulldogs' 13th straight victory. The fifth-seeded Toreros (16-13) matched Gonzaga's frantic pace from the start.
Few was displeased with having to play on San Diego's home court, saying the conference champion should play host to the tournament. Gonzaga and Pepperdine tied for the regular-season title, and Pepperdine won a coin toss for the top tourney seed.
"I thought we withstood a tremendous effort from San Diego," Few said. "To overcome all that and the position this ridiculous league puts you in to come down here and play a home game on their court after being seventh in the country, I give a lot of credit to my guys."
San Diego was up 64-60 with 11:42 to go, and still wouldn't go away even though the Bulldogs quickly grabbed a 68-64 lead on 3-pointers by Dan Dickau and Stepp, and an alley-oop dunk by Anthony Reason.
Andre Laws scored the next five points for a 69-68 San Diego lead.
Dickau's 3-pointer from the corner with 5:23 left seemed to give the Zags a cushion at 77-71, but it wasn't until Stepp hit his long 3-pointer - his fifth of the game - followed by two free throws from Ronny Turiaf 10 seconds later, that the Zags could breathe easier with an 84-77 lead.
Laws scored 21, Roy Morris 19, Jason Blair 17, and Sam Adamo 13 for San Diego, which fell to 0-6 against Top 10 teams and 1-16 against Top 25 teams.
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