It was over. Then, it wasn't. Then it was almost over. Then it really was over. The Saint Mary's Gaels won their second West Coast Conference Tournament Championship in the past three seasons, defeating the Gonzaga Bulldogs 78-74 in pulse-pounding overtime action. With both squads assured of favored seeds come Tournament time, this one was for pride. And as anyone who follows the WCC knows, when it comes to SMC and GU, pride can provide quite the entertainment.
Leading by five points with under 20 seconds to play, it looked as if Saint Mary's was ready to grab its first Regular Season/Tournament Championship combo in school history. After a missed trey from Kevin Pangos, Elias Harris grabbed the offensive rebound and put-back layup. Clinging to a three-point lead, the Gaels simply needed to inbound the ball and make a few free-throws. WIth the ball in Matthew Dellavadova's hands, the Bulldogs trapped in the corner, and forced a jump ball and a turnover. On the ensuing possession, Elias Harris buried a game-tying three-pointer with just under four seconds remaining. Ever hustling, Dellavadova drove the length of the court and had a Tyus Edny-style shot to win the game. It back rimmed and the two squads went to an extra frame. It seemed Gonzaga had all the momentum. Then, Saint Mary's did what Saint Mary's does: perservere.
Despite a monumental collapse in regulation, the Gaels rebounded in the overtime. Dellavadova, Jorden Page, and Brad Waldow all made their presence felt, as Saint Mary's executed down the stretch at both ends of the floor. The Gaels hit all six of their free-throw attempts in the extra frame to seal the win. This is Saint Mary's M.O. Rarely do the Gaels look like the superior team in match-ups with Gonzaga. Yet, the Gaels just know how to win.
The result will cause those in Spokane who question Mark Few's decision-making to etch another notch in the belt. On four late-game possessions, the Bulldogs switched a 1-5 ball-screen, causing Robert Sacre to be isolated against Dellavadova. While Sacre did as well as you could ask being left out on an island, the fact that this strategy passed muster down the stretch is mind-boggling.
Harris finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds but failed to score in overtime. Kevin Pangos, fresh off his 30 point explosion in the semifinal win over BYU, was just 3-of-18 from the field, including a Congressional Approval Rating-esque 1-for-10 beyond the arc.
It was simply another magical night for this terrific rivalry. And a further statement that Saint Mary's is here to stay. Compounding credit goes to Randy Bennett, who despite obvious disadvantages inside the WCC, has brought this program to the elite level. The West Coast Conference is no longer Gonzaga's bullying ground.