Zags Down Saint Mary's To Head To 11th Straight NCAA Tournament
March 9, 2009
LAS VEGAS -- Josh Heytvelt scored 17 points, Micah Downs added 12 points and 12 rebounds, and No. 12 Gonzaga romped into its 11th consecutive NCAA tournament with an 83-58 victory over St. Mary's and struggling star Patty Mills on Monday night in the West Coast Conference final.
Matt Bouldin scored 14 points for the relentless Zags (26-5), who followed up their perfect regular-season conference slate with two blowout wins in the tournament, giving them 18 victories in their last 19 games.
With Mills going 2-for-16 in his second game back from a broken hand, St. Mary's (25-6) never threatened the Zags in a loss that endangers the Gaels' hopes for the first back-to-back NCAA tournament bids in school history.
Gonzaga, which moved up two spots in Monday's Top 25 poll after routing Santa Clara in Sunday's semifinals, has won nine of the last 11 WCC tournament titles -- but few were so easy. Downs has the lowest scoring average among the Zags' five starters, but he clinched the tournament MVP award with 10 points and 10 rebounds in the first half against the Gaels. Joining Downs on the all-tournament team were teammates Jeremy Pargo and Matt Bouldin, John Bryant of Santa Clara and Diamon Simpson of the Gaels.
St. Mary's finished with 19-for-66 shooting, falling behind by 13 points at halftime and never mounting a rally. Mills scored five points, missing all seven of his 3-point attempts before sitting out much of the second half, and his teammates couldn't make up for the Australian sophomore's woes.
Simpson had 19 points and nine rebounds, and Omar Samhan added 17 points and nine rebounds for the Gaels, who must hope the NCAA selection committee appreciates their potential enough to overlook a poor performance in their biggest game of the season.
There are no such concerns for Gonzaga, which lost the WCC tournament final to San Diego last year. With remarkable depth and consistency, the Zags have won 16 consecutive conference games, earning the No. 1 seed for the 10th time in 12 years.
The Zags also have beaten St. Mary's in 26 of their last 29 meetings, preventing a true WCC rivalry from developing. The Zags' only blemish since New Year's Day is a non-conference loss to No. 4 Memphis.
Gonzaga's fans are used to traveling at tournament time, so they had no trouble filling the bulk of the seats at the Orleans Arena for the WCC's first neutral-site tournament. St. Mary's was represented by several hundred Bay Area faithful, but they were decidedly outnumbered by the Gonzaga faithful that booed Mills early and chanted "N-I-T, N-I-T" late.
The night got off to an ominous start for the Gaels, who were assessed a technical foul for dunking in the pregame warmup, although Bouldin only made one of two free throws. St. Mary's then missed its first eight shots while Gonzaga built a 10-point lead in the opening 4½ minutes, but Samhan helped the Gaels stay close.
Mills had been out of the Gaels' lineup since he broke two bones in his right hand during a game at Gonzaga on Jan. 29. While Mills underwent surgery, St. Mary's lost four of five games before rallying with five wins in a row to close the regular season.
Mills returned to practice a week ago, and he scored 12 points on 3-of-12 shooting in the Gaels' semifinal win over Portland, which sent them to their first conference title game since 2005. He missed his first seven shots against Gonzaga before making a tough layup while getting fouled with 1:51 left, but was 1-for-10 in the first half.
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