Saint Mary’s ends No. 1 Zags’ WCC reign

Sports
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Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura drives into St. Mary’s Malik Fitts during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game for the West Coast Conference men’s tournament title, Tuesday, March 12, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

LAS VEGAS (AP) Saint Mary’s ended the nation’s longest winning streak and Gonzaga’s six-year reign as West Coast Conference Tournament champions, grinding out a 60-47 victory in the title game on Tuesday night.

Saint Mary’s (22-11) all but shut down the nation’s highest-scoring team by slowing the game and forcing Gonzaga to grind out possessions instead of playing fast and free.

The Gaels held Gonzaga’s leading scorer Rui Hachimura in check and limited the Zags (30-3) to 2-of-17 shooting from 3-point range to end the nation’s longest winning streak at 21 games.

Gonzaga’s 18-game WCC tournament winning streak, dating to the 2012 title game, also came to an end, and so too could its bid for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Instead of waiting for Selection Sunday, Saint Mary’s left no doubt by earning its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2017 with its first WCC title in nine years.

Jordan Ford had 17 points and Tanner Krebs scored 13 for the Gaels.

Brandon Clarke led Gonzaga with 16 points and Hachimura was held to nine, nearly 11 under his average.

Gonzaga dominated the WCC during the regular season, finishing 16-0 while winning by a conference-record 27 points per game.

Two of those wins came against Saint Mary’s: 66-55 in Moraga and 94-46 in Spokane.

The Bulldogs cruised into their 20th straight title game under coach Mark Few – and 22nd overall – by crushing Pepperdine 100-74 in Monday’s semifinals.

Saint Mary’s controlled the pace in round three against Gonzaga, bogging down the Zags’ offense and forcing them into difficult shots. Gonzaga struggled to get anything to fall, open or not, scoring a season-low 24 points by halftime and missing six of its seven 3-point attempts.

The Zags also had a hard time containing Krebs. The junior, who averages 8.9 points per game, had 13 by halftime to push the Gaels to a 27-24 lead. Saint Mary’s did it with second-leading scorer Malik Fitts limited to less than a minute because of foul trouble.

Saint Mary’s continued to bog down Gonzaga and Fitts scored eight quick points to open the second half. The Gaels extended the lead to 48-41 with 7 1/2 minutes left and answered every time Gonzaga tried to make a run.

BIG PICTURE

Saint Mary’s played arguably its best game of the season at the best possible time. Now it’s on to the NCAA Tournament.

Gonzaga was never able to speed the Gaels up and rev up their high-scoring offense, showing a weakness that could be exploited in the NCAA Tournament.

UP NEXT

Both teams await their NCAA seedings.

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