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 Saint 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 19 victories in
their last 20 games.
With Mills going 2-for-16 in his second game back from a broken
hand, Saint 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 eight of the
last 12 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.
Saint 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.
Diamon 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 straight conference games,
earning the No. 1 seed for the 10th time in 12 years.
The Zags also have beaten Saint 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 nonconference loss to No. 4
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. Saint 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. Saint 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
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, Saint Mary's lost four of five games before
rallying with five straight wins 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