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Saint Mary's keeps Gonzaga's offense in check, controls rebounding battle in WCC title-game victory

Mar. 12—LAS VEGAS — It's not a coincidence Gonzaga's two lowest-scoring games of the season came against Saint Mary's.

The Gaels rank second nationally in scoring defense (58.7 points per game), first in rebounding margin (11.9) and eighth in field-goal percentage defense (39.8%). All three were major factors in the Gaels' 69-60 victory in Tuesday's West Coast Conference Tournament championship game.

Gonzaga connected on 44.4% from the field, including 2 of 11 behind the 3-point arc. That's well below GU's season averages of 51.8% shooting and 35.7% on 3s.

Saint Mary's owned the glass 39-22, including 12 offensive boards that led to an 11-4 advantage in second-chance points. A few of those extra possessions came at critical times in a close contest.

Saint Mary's post Mitchell Saxen led the way with 15 rebounds, six at the offensive end. Graham Ike was limited to 20 minutes due to foul trouble and Gonzaga's leading rebounder finished with just five boards.

"That could be it (stretches without Ike on the floor)," Zags forward Anton Watson said. "And (Mason) Forbes and Saxen are good rebounders, they kind of sit next to the hoop and they're strong. I didn't know Saxen had 15 rebounds.

"We got pounded on the glass."

Saint Mary's handed GU a 64-62 defeat at the McCarthey Athletic Center. Gonzaga won the rematch 70-57, thanks to a 44-point first half when it was able to get out in transition in the regular-season finale.

Ike, who came into the tournament riding a seven-game streak with at least 20 points, scored 20 points in two games.

"It was just incredibly physical in there," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "You let Saxen be that physical, he's tough to score on. It was a sumo wrestling match down there. If that's the case he's probably going to win. He's the biggest and strongest of these guys."

Ike made just 9 of 23 shot attempts in two tournament games. The Gaels' approach was a little different than San Francisco's.

"Maybe just a little bit more one-on-one," Ike said. "They were bringing another guy, not like three guys (on Monday night). The paint was a little clogged. That's all right, we'll learn."

Saint Mary's limited the Zags to four fastbreak points. Nearly every possession came down to execution in the half court.

"It's a different type of team," GU point guard Ryan Nembhard said. "You don't play a team like that too often."

Asked if it's tough to stay patient against the Gaels, Nembhard said, "Yeah, I think I took a couple of shots, some bad 3s. I have to go watch film and figure out what I need to do better."

Marciulionis tourney MVP

Saint Mary's dominated the all-tournament honors, much like it did with the regular-season awards.

Guard Augustas Marciulionis was named tournament MVP after averaging 13 points, seven assists and four rebounds in two victories.

He was joined on the all-tournament team by Gaels Aidan Mahaney and Saxen. Mahaney scored a game-high 23 points and made five 3-pointers in the championship game. Saxen added 19 points and 15 rebounds.

Gonzaga was represented by Watson and Nembhard. The two carried GU's offense most of the night against the Gaels. Watson finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and three assists. He posted 17 points and seven boards in the semifinal win over San Francisco. Nembhard had 13 points and 11 assists in the title game, one night after finishing with 16 points and 12 assists .