Saturday, March 3, 2012 | 9:29 p.m.
St. Mary’s will make its fourth straight appearance in the West Coast Conference championship game after downing San Francisco 83-78 Saturday night at Orleans Arena.
USF (20-13), the tournament’s fifth seed, entered the game playing its best basketball of the season, winning seven of its past 10 games, and those losses narrow ones to some of the league’s top teams — Gonzaga, Loyola Marymount and BYU.
St. Mary’s (26-5), meanwhile, came in as the tournament’s top seed and ranked 21st nationally. But the Gaels had ended the regular season by going 3-3, largely due to injuries to the conference player of the year, guard Matthew Dellavadova, and standout guard Steve Holt.
For about 30 minutes Saturday night, USF — playing its third consecutive game of the tournament, which got under way Wednesday — looked poised to pull off an upset.
The Dons held a four-point lead at halftime and led until about midway through the second half, when St. Mary’s forward Beau Levesque hit a 3-point shot that cut USF’s lead to one. That was immediately followed by a USF turnover, and the momentum quickly swung to St. Mary’s, aided by a technical foul on USF coach Rex Walters and a fourth foul on USF forward Paris Blackwell, which sent him to the bench.
St. Mary’s built a lead of 10 points late in the second half, but USF didn’t fade away — pulling to within three points with 5 seconds left. But USF’s fouls to stop the clock in the game's waning minutes sent St. Mary’s to the line and, ultimately, into Monday’s championship game.
“It’s going to be tough either way, they’re both really good sides,” the Australian Dellavedova said of the championship matchup before BYU and Gonzaga got tipped off the second semifinal game of the night.
USF’s Cody Doolin led all scorers with 28 points and held Dellavedova to five points in the first half and 17 in the game. St. Mary’s Clint Steindl scored 19 points, including six from long range.
The Orleans Arena, a Boyd Gaming facility located just west of the Las Vegas Strip, is one of the nation’s leading mid-sized arenas, and was recently ranked No. 1 in the United States and No. 5 internationally among venues of similar size by Venues Today Magazine.
The Arena hosts more than 200 events each year, including concerts by top names like Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, Van Halen, Brooks & Dunn, Black Eyed Peas, Akon and Rihanna; family favorites like The Harlem Globetrotters and Circus Spectacular; and a wide variety of sporting events, including NCAA basketball tournaments, the West Coast Conference and Western Athletic Conference Basketball Championships, mixed martial arts with Superior Cage Combat, and major motorsports events.
The arena serves as home to the Las Vegas Wranglers professional ECHL hockey team, the Las Vegas Legends professional indoor soccer team, and the Lingerie Football League’s Las Vegas Sin. Stay connected to the Orleans Arena on Facebook (www.facebook.com/orleansarena) and on Twitter (@orleansarena).