By MARK ANDERSON
AP Sports Writer
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Gonzaga’s players heard the criticisms this wasn’t the same Bulldogs team that has been among the nation’s elite in recent years, and they even struggled themselves to live up to the program’s enormous expectations.
“There were numerous days where I was not fun to be around,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
The Bulldogs kept working at it, and on Tuesday night, No. 9 Gonzaga sent a message to the rest of the country with a dominant-from-the-start 77-51 victory over No. 16 Saint Mary’s in the championship game of the West Coast Conference Tournament.
The Zags (28-5) continued their domination of the WCC with their fourth consecutive tournament championship and 10th in 11 years, with Saint Mary’s in 2019 being the only exception. Gonzaga has won 21 tournament titles overall.
Drew Timme scored 18 points and became Gonzaga’s all-time leading scorer, earning tournament Most Outstanding Player.
“I took for granted winning,” Timme said. “I won so much in my career, it’s a shock not to win. I think early in the year, it just kind of made me appreciate what it takes to win night in and night out. I think sometimes we kind of assume we were just going to win because we’re Gonzaga.
“Sometimes it’s hard not to fall into mindset we just need to get to March. It was grind this season. I think that grind has made us as a group appreciate each and every night winning and what it takes to win and be a good team.”
Saint Mary’s (26-7) was seeded first in the tournament after the teams split the regular-season series, and Timme said it was strange wearing a blue jersey rather than the customary white one. The Gaels were the last team to beat Gonzaga, which takes a nine-game winning streak into the NCAA Tournament that includes beating Saint Mary’s to end the regular season.
Both teams will find out their seedings and destinations Sunday.
Gonzaga made 58% of its shots, while holding Saint Mary’s to 33% shooting. The Bulldogs led by as many as 37 points and never trailed.
Timme was efficient in making 8 of 10 shots to lead four Bulldogs into double figures. Malachi Smith scored 14 points, Nolan Hickman 12 points and Julian Strawther 10. Anton Watson had 10 rebounds.
Timme’s short jumper with 10:18 left put him in first place alone as the leading scorer in Saint Mary’s history. He entered just five points short of breaking the mark, and his 18 points for the game gave him 2,210 for his career. Frank Burgess held the previous record of 2,196 from 1958-61.
Logan Johnson led the Gaels with 20 points, and Alex Ducas scored 10.
Gonzaga took control early, using a nine-point run to go up 14-4 and maintained a double-digit lead most of the way from there. The Zags at one point in the first half made 10 of 12 field goals, and by halftime, they had taken full command with a 37-19 lead.
“I told our guys we played 32 games and played pretty well in 32 of them,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “This one, we’re off. You can credit them. They played well. We didn’t show up.”
Gonzaga: Now is when the real pressure is on Gonzaga, which had made numerous deep runs in the NCAA Tournament, but is still searching for that elusive national championship. Until that happens, critics will say the WCC school is not on the same level as those from the power conference. It’s up the the Zags to prove them wrong.
Saint Mary’s: Saint Mary’s nearly gave away all of a 26-point lead in Monday’s semifinals because the Gaels had trouble with BYU’s press. Gonzaga threw the press at Saint Mary’s, and while it didn’t result in transition baskets for the Bulldogs, it slowed the Gaels’ offense. Saint Mary’s will need to figure out how to better execute against the press, or it will be a problem in the NCAA Tournament.
Gonzaga has a legitimate shot at a No. 2 seed, and it entered the game ninth in the NET rankings, a metric the NCAA committee uses in selecting the field. Even though Saint Mary’s was ranked just one spot ahead of the Bulldogs, the Gaels likely are looking at more of a five or six seed.
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