Gonzaga Prevails In WCC Tournament
March 9, 2004
By GREG BEACHAM
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) - Ronny Turiaf matched his career-highs with 29 points and 14 rebounds and No. 3 Gonzaga won the West Coast Conference tournament for the fifth time in six seasons, beating Saint Mary's 84-71 Monday night.
Turiaf seemed to outjump his opponents for every big rebound while scoring 15 points in the second half. The Bulldogs finally shook Saint Mary's in the final minutes, with Turiaf contributing five points and a key rebound. Turiaf was named tournament MVP.
With nearly 1,600 hometown fans cheering at the Leavey Center, Gonzaga also capped its undefeated season in conference play by beating Saint Mary's for the 17th straight time. The Bulldogs haven't lost since last Dec. 20 to Stanford, and their fans chanted "Undefeated!" in the final minute.
Earlier in the day, Gonzaga reached the highest ranking in school history, moving up one spot from last week - and two tough tourney victories should keep the Bulldogs on track for a high seed in the NCAA tournament. They've lost the conference tournament just once since 1999: San Diego beat them in the final last season.
Frederic Adjiwanou scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half for Saint Mary's (19-12), which trailed throughout the second half but never let Gonzaga get comfortable. The Gaels got within 70-66 on E.J. Rowland's free throws with 5:01 to play, but Tony Skinner hit a 3-pointer and Turiaf made a three-point play.
Rowland also had 16 points for the Gaels, who beat Pepperdine in the
semifinals. Saint Mary's enjoyed a resurgent season under third-year coach
Randy Bennett, but fell just short of the fourth NCAA tournament bid in the
program's 93-year history.
The West Coast tournament's top two seeds must win just two games to earn the automatic NCAA bid, but Gonzaga still got a good taste of postseason tension. The Bulldogs trailed for most of their semifinal matchup with host Santa Clara on Sunday night before rallying for a 63-62 win on Turiaf's rebound basket with five seconds to play.
A huge contingent of Gonzaga fans made the trek from Spokane for the game, including 450 students on their first official day of spring break.
The Gaels mostly controlled Stepp, the conference's player of the year, but Turiaf and Violette were practically unstoppable in the first half, claiming eight of the Bulldogs' 12 offensive rebounds.
Gonzaga went ahead 27-19 when freshman Derek Raivio stole a pass and got it to Turiaf, who took one dribble and leaped from just inside the free-throw line for a backboard-shaking dunk.
Gonzaga led by 14 late in the first half, but Saint Mary's got within five with 18:24 to play on Rowland's layup. The Bulldogs scored the next nine points, but Adjiwanou kept the Gaels in it with superb inside play.
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