Gonzaga has been the dominant force in the West Coast Conference for more than a decade.
League titles, NCAA Tournament appearances, a trip to the Elite 8, all-americans and NBA Draft picks. However you want to quantify dominance, Gonzaga did it. But for the first time since 2000, the ‘Zags did not win a share of the WCC regular season title this year.
That was all St. Mary’s. The Gaels were bailed out after a slump late in the season as Gonzaga went into San Francisco and got dropped by the Dons.
Which is why the chalk holding in the WCC Tournament is so glorious. St. Mary’s and Gonzaga don’t like each other. Their fans don’t like each other. I’m sure Mark Few and Randy Bennett have a mutual respect for each other, a commonality in the fact that both of them are trying to help build the WCC into a conference that perennially sends three or more teams to the NCAA Tournament, but that doesn’t mean that once that ball is tipped they want nothing more than to get the win.
This is a rivalry in every sense of the word, and while both teams have already locked up bids to the NCAA Tournament, there is more than just “a win” on the line here.
The Gaels and the Zags split during the regular season. St. Mary’s won at home by 21 points and Gonzaga responded with a 14 point win at the Kennel. With St. Mary’s already taking home the regular season title, a win tonight would give them a win of the season series between the two teams and the conference tournament title. That, folks, is what we call a clean sweep. All of the bragging rights would reside in Moraga, CA, and it would be a tough argument to label Gonzaga the class of the WCC.
That would also give St. Mary’s a bit of revenge. Gonzaga beat the Gaels twice down the stretch last season, earning a share of the WCC regular season title, winning the WCC tournament title and sending the St. Mary’s to the NIT. You don’t think they want this? Really, really badly?
Having said that, a win for the Bulldogs means they own the season series and a WCC championship, and while it might not be the WCC championship that they had won for more than a decade, it would be enough to claim the season a success.
All of that leads me to what will actually take place on the court, and believe it or not, Gonzaga is probably the better team right now. Since David Stockton has seen his minutes cut in exchange for Guy Landry-Ebi and Gary Bell, the Zags have gotten better defensively. Kevin Pangos is still a bit of a liability at the point, but he is quickly proving that he will be the next great Gonzaga guard, which is what will make his matchup with Matthew Dellavedova so entertaining tonight.
When SMC beat the Zags, Dellavedova had 26 points and six assists. While he got 20 and four assists in the rematch, it was a 27 point night from Pangos that carried Gonzaga to the win.
The craziest part about this preview? Look at how far I’ve gotten before I even mention that Rob Jones and Elias Harris, two of the best power forwards on the west coast, will be matching up tonight.
This will be must-see TV. It tips at 9 p.m. See you there.