Gonzaga Shoots For Sixth WCC Tournament Title In Seven Years

March 7, 2005

Gonzaga has plenty of experience in the West Coast Conference tournament title game. The rest of the conference, however, is starting to catch up with the Bulldogs.

Twelfth-ranked Gonzaga shoots for its sixth tournament title in seven years Monday against Saint Mary's.

The top-seeded Bulldogs (24-4) beat San Diego 90-74 in the semifinals Sunday. Adam Morrison had 25 points and a career-high eight assists for Gonzaga, which earned a bye into the semis by virtue of its 12-2 conference record.

The Zags hadn't played since last Monday's 87-60 win over Northern Colorado.

"We were very good for stretches, as good a combination of defensive intensity and disruption with great offensive execution," coach Mark Few said. "It was fun to watch."

J.P Batista, the conference newcomer of the year, added 24 points and 10 rebounds Sunday for the Zags, who won their 11th straight. Gonzaga matched its best shooting half of the season in the first period, hitting 65.6 percent of its shots despite having second leading-scorer Ronny Turiaf on the bench for all but 5 minutes because of foul trouble.

"We were sharing the ball, moving it around and we let the game come to us," Morrison said. "That's the best we've passed all year."

Gonzaga hasn't lost since Jan. 20, when it fell 73-70 at San Francisco.

The Zags have reached the conference tournament finals the last eight seasons, losing the title game in 1998 and 2003. They have also recorded 20 wins in each season during that stretch.

This season's run through the WCC might be among the most impressive for Gonzaga. The league reached seventh place - its highest ranking ever - in the conference RPI standings, trailing only the six power leagues.

Saint Mary's showed how much the conference has improved on Jan. 8, when it handed Gonzaga an 89-81 loss. Paul Marigney scored 30 points and hit seven 3-pointers for the Gaels, who made a school-record 16 shots from behind the arc.

Gonzaga earned a measure of revenge nearly a month later, beating Saint Mary's 68-63 at home on Feb. 3.

The Gaels (25-7) beat Santa Clara 69-64 on Sunday to earn a trip to the championship game. Marigney scored five of his 20 points in the final 1:18 and Daniel Kickert score all 16 of his points in the second half for Saint Mary's, which won its fifth straight.

The Gaels finished second in the conference with an 11-3 record and also received a bye into the semifinals. They are hoping to earn their first NCAA tournament bid since 1997.

Monday's winner will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Gonzaga, however, will earn its seven straight bid regardless of the outcome. The WCC has sent two teams to the tournament only five times in the last 15 years and has never sent three.

The Zags beat the Gaels 84-71 in last year's championship game. Turiaf had 29 points and 14 rebounds for Gonzaga.



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