Nigel Williams-Goss scored 22 points, Przemek Karnowski added 15 and No. 4 Gonzaga won its fifth straight West Coast Conference tournament title by beating No. 19 Saint Mary’s 74-56 Tuesday night.
Gonzaga (32-1) was not particularly sharp in the WCC semifinals, beating Santa Clara by nine to reach the title game for the 20th straight season.
The Zags got their mojo back in a dazzling first half against Saint Mary’s, then had to hold on after a shaky start to the second.
Gonzaga shot 50 percent and had a 38-22 advantage inside, staking claim to a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Saint Mary’s (28-4) fought back after an ugly first half, but couldn’t overcome a 21-point deficit for its third loss to the Zags this season.
Calvin Hermanson had 14 points and Jock Landale 10 for the Gaels, who must wait out selection Sunday for the second straight season.
Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s in the WCC final has become an annual tradition. The conference’s top two teams have met in the title game seven of the past nine years, with the Zags winning six titles, including the past four.
Gonzaga won the two regular-season meetings this year fairly easily, beating the Gaels 79-56 in Spokane, 74-64 in Moraga.
The Zags won their first 29 games of the season before a home loss to BYU, which Saint Mary’s beat by 31 after hitting 13 3-pointers in the WCC semifinals.
The Gaels didn’t have the same shooting touch against Gonzaga’s smothering defense, needing nearly 11 minutes just to crack double figures scoring. Saint Mary’s was discombobulated offensively throughout the first half, hitting 6 of 28 shots and turning it over 10 times while scoring 18 first-half points.
Gonzaga turned the missed shots and turnovers into baskets in transition, using a 12-0 run to build a 39-18 halftime lead.
The Gaels were better to start the second, shutting the Zags down while trimming the lead to 51-46 midway through.
They got no closer. Landale had to leave after picking up his fourth foul and Gonzaga took advantage, stretching the lead back to double digits.
Gonzaga will likely contend for No. 1 in the NCAA Tournament’s West Regional with the Pac-12 Tournament winner.
Saint Mary’s should have a good enough resume to make the NCAA Tournament despite the loss, but could have some anxious moments on selection Sunday after being left out last season.
Saint Mary’s will likely play in the NCAA Tournament.
Gonzaga is headed to the NCAA Tournament for the 19th straight season.