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Saint Mary’s Stuns Gonzaga, Earns NCAA Tournament Berth; Zags Wait

Gonzaga Coach Mark Few watches the game slip away from the Zags. Photo by Mark Muelheim.

Gonzaga Coach Mark Few watches the game slip away from the Zags. Few said the coming week will give the Zags time to rest, regroup and prepare for the NCAA Tournament. Photo by Mark Muelheim.

TRACKING THE ZAGS

March 8, 2010

Powered by Mickey McConnell’s career-best 26 points and Ben Allen’s 20, Saint Mary’s stunned No. 18 Gonzaga 81-62 Monday night to capture the West Coast Conference tournament title and earn the league’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. The Zags must now wait until Selection Sunday, March 14 for the at-large berth they expect into the NCAA Tournament.

Gonzaga's fans had to put a damper on their postgame celebrations. Photo by Mark Muelheim.

Gonzaga's fans had to put a damper on their postgame celebrations. Photo by Mark Muelheim.

The 26-5 Gaels earned the school’s sixth NCAA Tournament berth through stellar shooting against the No. 1-seed Bulldogs (26-6), who earned their 10th regular-season WCC championship this season. The victory was the second time Saint Mary’s won the WCC tournament since it began in 1987 and the first time they beat Gonzaga in 10 WCC Tournament contests.

McConnell and Allen drained four 3-point shots each, powering Saint Mary’s to a first-half lead before the Gaels delivered a punishing 18-7 second-half flurry that spoiled Gonzaga’s planned celebrations.

Steven Gray led Gonzaga with 16 points and Matt Bouldin added 14 as the Zags failed to earn the WCC’s automatic bid for only the third time in the past dozen years. Gonzaga will find out who they play in the NCAA Tournament and when on Selection Sunday, March 14.

Zags’ Coach Mark Few said the Bulldogs knew the game would be intensely competitive.

“And we knew they would be hungry in search of an NCAA berth. Down the stretch they out-competed us,” Few said.

Looking ahead, Few suggested the next 10 days will provde time for his team ”to put up a lot of shots, try to improve our skills and better understand what we are doing on offense and defense.”

Meanwhile, some 1,200 Zag faithful packed the Orleans Hotel ballroom for Gonzaga’s alumni social Monday afternoon, where old stories were swapped, acquaintances were renewed, and new friends were made. Tournament officials estimate more than 5,000 Gonzaga fans attended the tournament.

“How could this tournament be any better,” wondered Jerry Karstetter, a longtime Spokane youth basketball coach and fan, who had come to Vegas with friend Jack Lucas, a Gonzaga regent.

The league expanded the seats sold in the Orleans Arena to more than 7,900 this year, and sold them out, in addition to selling standing-room-only tickets. The 1,889-room Orleans Hotel was sold out as well.

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