Gonzaga Bulldogs again too much for Saint Mary's Gaels

David Stockton’s 21 points lead dominant Gonzaga past Saint Mary’s for the third time this season

Staff writerMarch 11, 2014 

— So many ugly, tense, back-and-forth bruisers for the West Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament title have been staged on this court between these two schools.

It was kind of strange to see Gonzaga win this one in a laugher.

Maybe it had something to do with the Zags playing Saint Mary’s College at a different spot in the tournament Monday night — in the semifinals and not for the championship. Or maybe it was just one of those years Gonzaga had the Gaels’ number, handing the California school three consecutive double-digit losses in the series — the latest a 70-54 win Monday at the Orleans Arena.

The top-seeded Bulldogs (27-6) will play for the WCC tournament crown for a 17th consecutive season Tuesday. The Zags will play No. 2 seed Brigham Young, which needed overtime to beat San Francisco in the other semifinal, 79-77.

Senior David Stockton had arguably his finest game ever for the Zags — 21 points, six rebounds, four assists, no turnovers and constant drives past any Gaels defender who was in the area. Gary Bell Jr., the Kentridge High product, added 14 points, and Sam Dower Jr. chipped in with 12.

It was the Zags’ seventh consecutive win over their chief conference rival. Saint Mary’s saw its run of consecutive appearances in the WCC title game end at five, winning it all in 2010 and 2012.

In those great runs, the Gaels had something that is obviously missing from this team — a heady, steady point guard. For four seasons through last year, it was Matthew Dellavedova, who now plays in the NBA for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Streaky Stephen Holt, who has had his share of big games against the Zags in the past, was thoroughly manhandled in his three starts this season as the new point guard.

“We want him to have to see a lot of eyes,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We want to be in the right help (defensive) position. And we want Sam to be an active defender on the ball screen. When (Holt) does clear that first line, we want to contest all of his tough (two-point shots).”

Whatever the Zags’ strategy with Holt has been, it has worked. In the regular-season games, Saint Mary’s has struggled to score — 51 and 47 points in the losses.

The offensive issues were not resolved Monday. The Gaels started with three turnovers on their first four possessions. The Bulldogs kept Bell pretty much glued to Holt. And when it was somebody else’s turn to rotate the basketball, it usually resulted in a bad pass amid poor spacing.

“Anytime you lost a pro (Dellavedova) like that, it is devastating to a team,” Stockton said. “For them it’s mostly because he was such a catalyst for their offense — a leader — talking to guys. It is hard to make up for that.”

On a night in which standout guard Kevin Pangos was quiet (nine points overall, did not attempt a field goal in the first half), Bell’s early aggressiveness and Stockton’s second-half finishes to the basket were most impactful.

Bell hit a 3-pointer, then charged down the left side and hit a tough runner to push the Zags’ lead to 13-4 just 7 minutes, 32 seconds into the game.

“We are at our best,” Few said, “when he is hunting shots.”

Stockton, who sank the game-winning shot in the final seconds of the Zags’ thrilling 77-75 quarterfinal victory over Santa Clara, scored 11 points in the first nine minutes of the second half.

His last points during that stretch came off two free throws after he came off a pick and took it right at Holt. It gave the Zags a 50-32 lead at the 10:59 mark.

Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said the Gaels decided to put an extra body on the interior to fend off Dower and Przemek Karnowski, leaving Stockton open to read, weave and score at will.

“He was sure good tonight,” Bennett said.

The only poor redirect wasn’t off the dribble or on a pass. It was in the postgame press conference when Stockton was asked about playing his final WCC tournament game Tuesday.

He stumbled through an answer before stopping. “I don’t have actually anything to say,” he said with a smirk.

“That’s a first,” Few said, laughing out loud.

Stockton already said what he needed to with his play.

Todd Milles: 253-597-8442

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