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Gonzaga takes control of WCC with win over St. Mary's

The SportsXchange

MORAGA, Calif. -- Gonzaga sophomores Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. seemed to take personal responsibility for letting St. Mary's end the Bulldogs' run of 11 straight West Coast Conference regular-season titles last year.

So no one was more pleased than those two when the No. 5 Bulldogs took a giant step toward a WCC title this year with a 77-60 victory over St. Mary's at sold-out McKeon Pavilion on Thursday.

The win gave Gonzaga a two-game lead in the loss column over second-place St. Mary's with five conference games remaining, so the Bulldogs seem destined to win the regular-season WCC title for the 12th time in 13 years.

"For me, the important thing was getting closer to the WCC title," Pangos said. "They were the one closest to us, and they had it last year."

Bell had 20 points and Pangos added 18 as the Bulldogs (24-2, 11-0) used a 20-4 burst over the first 5:16 of the second half to overcome a one-point halftime deficit.

The game halted the Gaels' nine-game winning streak, handed St. Mary's (21-5, 10-2) its first home loss of the season and probably ended the Gaels' hopes of winning a second straight regular-season conference title.

Gonzaga coach Mark Few was just happy his team did not become another statistic in the recent rash of upsets by Top 10 teams.

"It was a win in February," he said, "and looking across the country the last seven to 10 days, those are hard to come by, especially on the road."

Matthew Dellavedova scored 19 of his game-high 22 points during his outstanding first-half performance for the Gaels (21-5, 10-2). But he could not continue his dominance in the second half.

The Gaels attempted a season-high 35 three-point shots (making 12) compared with 23 attempts from inside the arc, but the Bulldogs countered by making 20 free throws to just two for the Gaels.

St. Mary's coach Randy Bennett knows how pivotal the game was. A St. Mary's win would have put the Gaels in first place, a half-game ahead of the Bulldogs. Now it's going to be difficult to catch them.

"That's going to be tough," he said. "It's out of our control. We had a chance to control it and we missed it."

A win over a ranked team also might have solidified a spot in the NCAA tournament for the Gaels.

Gonzaga quickly overcame a one-point halftime deficit by scoring the first seven points of the second half, a run initiated by Bell's three-pointer 21 seconds into the half.

The Bulldogs' lead grew to 15 points when Kelly Olynyk, who finished with 17 points, made a three-point shot at the 14:44 mark.

"I actually thought we played pretty well other than those first five minutes of the half," Bennett said.

St. Mary's reduced the deficit to seven points when Stephen Holt made a 14-footer with 8:27 to go, and Dellavedova made it a four-point game with his only points of the second half -- a three-pointer with 6:47 left.

But Gonzaga's little-used Drew Barham hit a three-pointer to halt the St. Mary's momentum, and the Bulldogs built the lead back up to 12 with three minutes left.

St. Mary's led 33-32 at halftime, thanks to the work of Dellavedova, who hit 5 of 7 three-point shots in the first 20 minutes.

Jordan Giusti hit a three-pointer from the right corner with four seconds left to give the Gaels their first lead, 33-30.

Mitchell Young spoiled the momentum by fouling Pangos in the backcourt with 1.5 seconds to go, and Pangos' two free throws reduced the St. Mary's lead to 33-32 game at intermission. That foul by Young seemed to initiate the Bulldogs' second-half surge.

NOTES: Gonzaga and St. Mary's are the only teams to win WCC regular-season titles since Pepperdine did it in 2000. ... Only four of the 10 starters in Thursday's game were American-born players -- two for each team. ... Gonzaga had a 4-4 record against St. Mary's in their previous eight meetings before Thursday. ... Gonzaga beat St. Mary's 83-78 earlier this season at Gonzaga. ... Dellavedova started his 123rd game last Saturday against San Diego, giving him the school record for the most career starts. ... Olynyk has scored in double figures in 21 consecutive games and has scored at least 13 points in 19 straight games.
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