Game 8: Championship Game (6pm, ESPN / ESPN3): No. 1 Saint Mary's Gaels vs No. 2 Gonzaga Bulldogs
In recent years, the WCC Tournament has always been Gonzaga's to lose. Times are finally starting to change in the West Coast Conference. The BYU Cougars added a much appreciated competitive team to the mix, and Saint Mary's is starting to resemble a consistent title contender. For the first time in 12 years, Gonzaga didn't take home a piece of the WCC regular season title. Although the San Francisco Dons also tried to spoil the fun, the WCC tournament really seemed like it would be Saint Mary's and Gonzaga all along. The two teams split the regular season games, each winning at home, so its time for the bragging rights to be determined.
What to know: Gonzaga traveled to Moraga, California early in WCC play and at the time it seemed that Saint Mary's was the team to beat. The Gael's had their way with the Bulldogs en route to a 19 point victory that would be the shining piece of a 12 game win streak. Eventually injuries and the toll of being the top dog in the league started to take their toll. Stephen Holt is most likely still out for the Gael's, and even though they won the WCC crown, they completed the act in increasingly less and less convincing fashion. But as most coaches will say - a win is a win. Saint Mary's is a selfless team that doesn't make many mistakes. Matthew Dellavedova is making a career out of hassling the Bulldog's backcourt, averaging 18.3 points and close to 5 assists against the Bulldogs throughout his career.
Kevin Pangos scored 30 points in a 18 point win against BYU on Saturday night, hitting five threes in the process. Pangos has struggled at times on the road/neutral courts this year, but the Orleans Arena will most likely be a de facto home game for the Bulldogs. Saint Mary's will need to neutralize Pangos if they have any hope of winning this game. He has a very quick release and hits 42.3% from beyond the arc. If he is left open, he will take that shot.
Who is going to win: Saint Mary's took a blow when Stephen Holt injured his knee. The sophomore guard quietly puts up a solid stat line each game he plays, averaging 10 points, 4.7 boards, 3.3 assists, and 1.8 steals a game. Rob Jones is a big fellow, but standing at 6-6, he is a bit undersized. The Gonzaga front line is much taller than the Gaels, and if Robert Sacre, Elias Harris, and Sam Dower remember this fact they should be able to do as they will against a smaller Gaels line-up. Where as Saint Mary's were playing some of their best basketball earlier in WCC play, outside of the loss to San Francisco, Gonzaga is clicking just in time for March to roll around. Neither team needs the tournament title to make it into March Madness, but a win here will go a long way in solidifying a better seed for each team. ESPN's Joe Lunardi currently projects Saint Mary's in the dreaded 8 seed slot and Gonzaga is sitting in a much more comfortable 6 seed. For seeding purposes, Saint Mary's needs the win more than Gonzaga. But for hunger purposes, expect this game to be close and expect Gonzaga to take the first step towards re-establishing WCC dominance tonight.