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LMU gave the Zags an early scare and San Diego took Saint Mary's to overtime but, in the end, the two top teams throughout the regular season will meet in the tournament finale.
It just had to end this way.
Gonzaga and Saint Mary's will hit the floor for their fifth consecutive WCC finals matchup but this one means a little bit more than in years past. For senior leaders Matthew Dellavedova and Elias Harris, it is their final chance to leave an imprint on this fantastic rivalry and walk away from WCC play as tournament champions. Harris and Dellavedova have been the faces of each program through the best parts of this rivalry and they just had to have one more chance to lace em' up and do battle.
The Saint Mary's and Gonzaga rivalry has never been short on storylines which is why it has become the premier matchup on the West Coast and this game is no different. In addition to watching the final Dellavedova - Harris battle, this game is huge in terms of the NCAA Tournament. For Saint Mary's, they are still squarely on the bubble. The overtime win over San Diego may have been enough to get them in the field of 68 but if they lose tonight, there will likely be a lack of sleep in Moraga leading up to Sunday. For Gonzaga, a win would mean the inside track to a No. 1 seed in the tournament. A loss, well, let's not talk about a loss.
The Zags swept the season series against the Gaels this season but those were by no means comfortable wins. In their first game, Gonzaga jumped out a big lead in the Kennel and then held on for dear life down the stretch as Saint Mary's nearly clawed their way back for the upset win. In the return game at Moraga, the first half was hotly contested as the Gaels led by a point at halftime. Gonzaga used a big start of the second half to jump out to a lead and they never looked back on their way to a 77-60 win.
In the win at Saint Mary's, it was Gary Bell Jr. who stepped up and led the way for Mark Few. The sophomore guard was 6-10 from the floor and 4-5 from deep against the Gaels. He scored 20 points for the game and was also crucial in Gonzaga's largest task of the game: stopping Matthew Dellavedova. Dellavedova scored 19 points in the first half of the game but only added three in the second half as Bell and Mike Hart kept tight watch over the senior guard.
In tonight's game, I think you can expect to see Gonzaga employ a similar strategy as they did in Moraga. Stop Dellavedova at all costs, even if that means doubling him a good amount and dare the rest of the Gaels to win the game. Brad Waldow was the star for Saint Mary's in their semifinals win over San Diego but I don't think that performance will cause the Zags to deviate much from the 'stop-Delly' game plan. That game plan is obviously far easier said then done. Dellavedova is one of the top point guards to play in the conference over the past 20 years and has a knack for getting open even when the defense is focused on him.
In their first game of the year, Gonzaga put together a great first half. In the second game, it was a strong Gonzaga second half that led them to the win. Tonight, I feel like they put together two excellent halves of basketball and win the West Coast Conference tournament in somewhat convincing fashion. I expect Kelly Olynyk to rebound from his poor performance on Saturday but think it is the play of Gonzaga's backcourt that is the difference tonight.