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Zags-Gaels rematch was great, but a third meeting could be epic

Ryan Greene
The Dagger

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The best part of Thursday's typical down-to-the-wire affair between Gonzaga and Saint Mary's might be knowing that the two could now possibly meet again next Monday with everything on the line.

The Zags got revenge for a home loss to the Gaels earlier this season in overtime, 89-85.

It kept Gonzaga's streak of 10 straight WCC regular season title from getting snapped, and also pulled the two pretty much even in terms of the positioning on the NCAA tournament bubble.

"We pride ourselves in winning league championships," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "That's what we've done."

Just a week ago, it looked like the Gaels were en route to their first outright WCC crown since 1989, but a surprising 3-game skid, which also included a shocking loss at San Diego and a home collapse against Utah State, now has their postseason hopes in jeopardy.

It was almost claimed in the most dramatic of fashions by Mickey McConnell, who won the first meeting in Spokane with a buzzer-beating jumper. This time, he barely missed a 3-pointer at the end of regulation that would have won it, then saw a potential go-ahead lay-up with 11 seconds left in overtime bounce off of the back iron.

As it stands, Randy Bennett's club is 22-7, 10-3 in the league, its strength of schedule is at 121 and the RPI is 57, with a 1-4 record against the RPI Top 50.

In other words: Not so hot.

Gonzaga's profile doesn't look much better, with an RPI of 63, SoS of 79 and a 1-5 record against the RPI Top 50.

The Zags' rise from an awful mid-season slump — low-lighted by a Bay Area sweep at the hands of Santa Clara and San Francisco — can still somehow conclude with an outright league title, as they'll face last-place San Diego on the road Saturday night. The Gaels conclude their season at home against Portland, who beat them by 15 last month in their first WCC loss. A loss to the Pilots means no banner at all for a team that was running away with it just a couple of weeks back.

It's almost certain that the two will secure the top seeds in next week's WCC tournament in Las Vegas, meaning byes into the semifinals.

A Monday night meeting in the title game could be epic.

The two met there last season, and even though Saint Mary's prevailed in front of a sold-out crowd at the Orleans Arena, Gonzaga knew it was still safe come Selection Sunday and played like it in an 81-62 blowout loss.

This year, the loser might not be so comfortable.

Ryan Greene also covers UNLV and the Mountain West Conference for the Las Vegas Sun. Read his Rebels coverage and follow him on Twitter.

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