With all the ingredients thrown into the McKeon cauldron for a Saint Mary’s victory, all they needed to do was close.
In fact, as late as 11:08 remaining when Desmond Simmons hit a 3 to push SMC’s lead to 10 (Gonzaga’s largest deficit all year was eight before last night) and seemingly all but setup the knockout punch, GU responded as it has done (almost) all year: surging back and closing out, this time scoring the game’s final 12 points.
The Zags topped Saint Mary’s 70-60 to claim the outright regular season WCC championship in front of a packed house of Gael faithful, which happened to include former SMC standout and Spurs guard Patty Mills and two of his world champion teammates.
It seems as though it has just been that type of year for Gonzaga.
But in a conference slate where the favorites had every possible test thrown their way, Mark Few’s squad (28-1, 16-0) sits with just two final regular season tests at home and the notion that everything is under control.
Saint Mary’s hit of 6-of-7 3-pointers to start out the game and jumped out on the ill-shooting Zags, stretching the lead to as much as 17 around 4 minutes left in the first half. SMC led by 11 at the midway mark.
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Credit to 3s by Pangos and Wiltjer, Gonzaga started out the second on a 10-0 run. After going back and fourth for pretty much the rest of the half, Kyle Wiltjer led the closeout scoring the game’s final eight points – six of which coming from the line – two big blocks and five of his 12 rebounds in the final 1:30.
Down 17 at one point? Zags won by 10. That not only covered the spread (-6.5), but silenced any doubt of what would have been Gonzaga’s lone conference loss.
GU trailed for a total of 35:51 minutes in the game–and the Zags did not even play a bad game. Sure, Wiltjer started off 1 of 7 from the field but the Bulldogs only coughed the ball up five times on the night.
The MVP: Who else?
Kyle Wiltjer. The forward responded to his own 45-point outing with a clutch finish to one of the best WCC games in recent years. Eight points, five rebounds and two clutch blocks in the last minute while going 6 of 6 from the free throw line? Give this guy the WCC POY trophy already.
GU takes on San Deigo and BYU on Thursday and Saturday to try to close out the regular season undefeated in conference play. Look to West Coast Convo for the coverage.