The West Coast Conference has never had two ranked teams meet. The first such meeting couldn’t produce any bigger stakes.
Gonzaga, No. 24 in the nation, puts its 12-game home winning streak against 25th-ranked Saint Mary’s on the line Saturday when the top two teams in the conference meet with first place up for grabs.
This week marks the first time since the 1973-74 season that the WCC has two teams ranked in the AP poll. San Francisco and former conference member UNLV were both ranked that season.
This game will go a long way toward determining the WCC champion. Both teams finish their regular seasons Monday with Gonzaga (22-6, 11-1) hosting Santa Clara and Saint Mary’s (24-4, 11-1) visiting Portland.
Gonzaga has won the WCC seven straight times, but Saint Mary’s is in position to end the streak. The Gaels handed the Bulldogs their only conference loss 89-85 in overtime on Feb. 4, but haven’t beaten Gonzaga in Spokane since a 68-63 win on Jan. 21, 1995.
“It’s on our minds a lot,” said Saint Mary’s forward Diamon Simpson about the chance to win the title. “That was one of our goals at the beginning of the season, so we’re going to try to get it.”
The Gaels prevailed in the first meeting thanks to fifth-year senior Todd Golden, who went 6-for-6 from 3-point range to set a school record. Freshman Patty Mills led the way with 23 points while Golden finished with 19.
Gonzaga, which was led by Jeremy Pargo’s 27 points, grudgingly paid respect to Saint Mary’s afterward.
“This is still our league,” forward David Pendergraft insisted after the game. “We’ve won it seven straight times for a reason. But they’re doing really well and made big plays.”
The Bulldogs will seek revenge at the McCarthey Athletic Center, where they are 50-2 all-time. They appear to be peaking down the stretch and won their fifth straight Monday, 73-51 at Portland.
Despite the lopsided score, the win didn’t come easy. Gonzaga trailed 29-27 at halftime and used a 26-11 surge midway through the second half to finally pull away.
“I thought they were physically playing harder than us, at least for 20 minutes,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said. “Then we were kind of able to flick the switch a little bit.”
Pargo and Pendergraft each scored 13 points to lead Gonzaga, which shot 50.0 percent (26-of-52). It was the sixth time in seven games that the Bulldogs made at least half of their shots.
Golden and Tron Smith made sure the final home game of their careers would end on a high note as Saint Mary’s held off San Diego 61-54 on Monday. The seniors combined for 25 points as the Gaels avenged their lone WCC defeat.
Simpson had 15 points and 11 rebounds for his third straight double-double and was named conference player of the week. He’s averaging 17.3 points and 11.7 boards in the last three games.
Mills, the team’s leading scorer at 14.3 points per game, was held to a season-low two points on three shots in his second straight difficult outing. He managed only five points on 2-of-11 shooting in a 65-57 loss to Kent State last Saturday.