Tuesday, March 6, 2012 | 12:08 a.m.
- Gonzaga makes short work of BYU (3-4-2012)
- St. Mary’s holds off USF for spot in championship game (3-3-2012)
March can turn mad early in Las Vegas, as three college conferences venture here to crown their tournament champions. That was the case Monday night at Orleans Arena as St. Mary's won an overtime thriller over Gonzaga, 78-74, to claim the West Coast Conference tournament title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
The game matched the first and second seeds and teams that have met six times in the conference tournament title game. The lead changed hands 14 times and the game was tied nine times before St. Mary's won. It is the first time the Gaels have won the regular-season and tournament titles.
"It's a tremendous thing for our program, it's a beautiful thing," said St. Mary's Rob Jones, who finished with 18 points and 9 rebounds.
Fueled by a pro-Bulldog crowd of 6,826, Gonzaga (25-6) held an 8-point lead with 4:32 left in the first half. St. Mary's (27-5), led by guard Matthew Dellavedova, went on a 10-2 run and the first half ended 36-36.
Three-point shooting kept the Gaels in the game in the first half — the team hit 7-of-14 from long range. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, did most of their scoring inside.
St. Mary's started the second half with another 10-2 run, building leads of as much as eight points. Gonzaga kept the game within reach, but it seemed that every time the Bulldogs drew close enough to take a lead, Dellavedova, a junior from Australia, had an answer.
"He's a crafty player, he's really unpredictable," said Gonzaga guard Kevin Pangos, who had seven points on 3-of-18 shooting.
Gonzaga pulled within one with just over three minutes left. Again Dellavedova answered with a floater in the lane.
With 30 seconds left, St. Mary's had a 5-point lead and the game seemed in hand. But Gonzaga's Elias Harris' layup with 16 seconds left, followed by a Harris three-point shot with two seconds left tied it up. Harris led the Bulldogs with 22 points and 13 rebounds.
Dellavedova drove the length of the court, missing a short runner as time expired.
In overtime, Gonzaga took a quick lead before St. Mary's came back on a pair of layups. The game was tied with less than a minute left, when a missed 3-pointer by Pangos got batted toward midcourt. The ball was headed out of bounds as Dellavedova and Pangos sprinted toward it. Dellavedova maneuvered between Pangos and the ball, drawing the foul. He made both free throws. And St. Mary's would hit four more to put the game away.
Afterward, Dellavedova joked that playing Australian-rules football had helped him win the crucial scramble for the long rebound. He led the Gaels with 22 points and four assists and was named the tournament's most-valuable player.
"His competitiveness and leadership is what makes him special," St. Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "It certainly isn't his jumping ability."
Later this week the Orleans Arena hosts the Western Athletic Conference tournament, while the Thomas & Mack will be home to the Mountain West Conference tournament.
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).
Sun freelance writer Brad Slighting contributed to this report.