Zags use big second-half run to pull away

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -- This season started with talk that Gonzaga might no longer be the best team in the West Coast Conference.

It ended with the Zags on top for the sixth time in seven years.

Adam Morrison scored 30 points and keyed a big second-half run to lead Gonzaga (No. 12 ESPN/USA Today, No. 11 AP) to an 80-67 victory over Saint Mary's on Monday night in a meeting of the conference's top two teams.

"Obviously being how young we are, over the summer we heard a lot of whispers about us finishing second or fourth in this league, and it kind of put a little chip on our shoulders," said Morrison, the tournament MVP. "We read the Web sites. We heard what people were saying around town."

Ronny Turiaf added 18 points and 14 rebounds as the Zags (25-4) earned a seventh straight NCAA Tournament bid with their 12th consecutive victory. Gonzaga beat the second-seeded Gaels in the title game for the second straight season.

Daniel Kickert scored 27 points with a career-high seven 3-pointers and Paul Marigney had 20 points and 11 rebounds for Saint Mary's (25-8), which still has a chance to earn the school's first NCAA Tournament bid since 1997.

"I would have to question the process if we're out," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "We played in a good conference. We lost to a good team. I think we've done all we could do other than win tonight."

Morrison scored the Zags' first seven points after halftime, including a three-point play that started a 15-3 run. He threw his arm into the air to celebrate in the final minute and called for Gonzaga's many fans to rise to their feet.

"Adam's a big-time player," Zags coach Mark Few said. "The bigger the moment, the better he is. He is the reason we've run off as many straight as we have. He's defending and he's making everybody better on both ends."

Turiaf, who had four second-half blocks, responded with a big night after a poor performance in Gonzaga's 90-74 semifinal win over San Diego on Sunday.

Derek Raivio added 16 points to help Gonzaga snap the Gaels' five-game winning streak.

Of all the talented Gonzaga teams during the program's recent run, some say this could potentially be the best one.

After Kickert's 3 with 16:20 left pulled the Gaels to 41-40, Gonzaga scored 10 straight points and held the Gaels to one field goal in 10 minutes. Marigney scored five straight to pull Saint Mary's to 53-47 with 8:01 to go, but the Gaels couldn't get closer.

The Bulldogs, who played in the tournament championship game for the eighth straight year, haven't lost since a 73-70 defeat at San Francisco on Jan. 20.

Gonzaga's red-clad fans chanted "This is our house!" before the game, a reminder that the Zags have won eight straight in the Leavey Center, Santa Clara's home arena.

Most of the sellout crowd was in red, actually, one of the colors
for both teams.

Kickert made five first-half 3-pointers. Kickert is from Australia, and a fan dressed in an Australian flag T-shirt and carrying the country's flag ran wildly along the upper concourse during a second-half timeout before security stopped him.

E.J. Rowland had six of his nine assists in the first half, but Saint Mary's started the second half 2-for-13, missed four crucial free-throw attempts and was sloppy with the ball. The Gaels committed three
shot-clock violations and a half-court violation.

"We still had some good looks in the second half," Rowland said. "They just didn't fall our way."

The teams split their two regular-season meetings, both winning at home. Saint Mary's made a school-record 16 3-pointers to beat the Zags 89-81 on Jan. 8.

Saint Mary's has never beaten Gonzaga in the conference tournament (0-8). The Gaels blew a 12-point halftime lead in Spokane on Feb. 3, shooting 7-for-29 after the break in a 68-63 loss.

The Gaels were 10-for-18 to start Monday's game and used a 13-4 spurt to build a 26-16 lead but then missed 12 of their next 15 shots. Morrison scored six straight to keep Gonzaga close before the Zags responded with a 10-3 run and pulled within 35-34 at halftime.

The WCC has sent two teams to the tournament only five times in the last 15 years, but the Gaels are hoping their 25 wins will be the difference for the selection committee next Sunday.