After Surviving Scare In Semifinals, Gonzaga Looks for WCC Tournament Title

March 8, 2004


Gonzaga's winning streak nearly ended on Sunday.

Thanks to Ronny Turiaf, the third-ranked Bulldogs (26-2) have a chance to extend it to 20 when they meet Saint Mary's in the West Coast Conference championship game Monday in Santa Clara, Calif.

Turiaf put back his own miss with five seconds remaining to give Gonzaga a 63-62 win over Santa Clara on Sunday.

The Bulldogs, who finished 14-0 during the conference season, earned a bye into the tournament's semifinal round. Once they got there, tournament host Santa Clara provided them with one of the toughest challenges they've faced this season.

Gonzaga fell behind early and did not take the lead until WCC player of the year Blake Stepp hit a 3-pointer with 1:41 remaining in the second half.

"We did not play our 'A' game," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "These are the types of games we see teams across the country losing. We haven't had one of these in a while. To dig it out is important, especially this time of year. You need to win these types of games in March."

But Turiaf hit the Bulldogs' biggest shot of the night - and perhaps the biggest of the season. The Gonzaga student section stormed the court when time expired.

Senior center Cory Violette scored 22 points to lead Gonzaga, which survived a madcap final two minutes that saw the lead change five times and the Bulldogs score three of their last four baskets after offensive rebounds.

The Bulldogs' school-record 19-game winning streak, which is the nation's second-longest behind only unbeaten Saint Joseph's (27-0), is intact - as are their hopes for a possible No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

If the Bulldogs get past Saint Mary's, they will secure their fifth WCC tournament championship in the past six seasons.

Second-seeded Saint Mary's (19-11), which finished 9-5 in WCC play, also earned a bye into Sunday's semifinal round. The Gaels advanced with a 79-74 win over third-seeded Pepperdine.

An upset of Gonzaga would give Saint Mary's its first trip to the NCAA tournament in seven years.

Junior guard E.J. Rowland scored 21 points Sunday, while backcourt mate Paul Marigney added 19 to help the Gaels hold off the Waves.

Marigney led the WCC with 20.1 points per game against conference opponents this season. The 6-3 junior guard also finished first in free throw percentage, making 88.3 percent of his attempts.

Gonzaga won both of its previous meetings with Saint Mary's this season by a combined 32 points.

The Bulldogs will again be without reserve center Richard Fox, who hyperextended his right knee in practice Friday. He is expected to return for the NCAA tournament.



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