St. Mary’s Gaels vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs Pick & Prediction MARCH 12th 2024

Two familiar foes will compete for the West Coast Conference tournament title when No. 17 Gonzaga and No. 21 Saint Mary’s take the court in Las Vegas on Tuesday night.

It will be the third straight season and 12th of the last 16 that the Bulldogs and Gaels meet in the championship game. Gonzaga owns an 8-3 edge in the previous 11 title-game matchups.

The Gaels (25-7) are the No. 1 seed this time around by finishing one game ahead of the second-seeded Bulldogs (25-6) in the regular season. The teams split their two regular-season meetings and both teams are shoo-ins for the NCAA Tournament, regardless of what transpires Tuesday.

Saint Mary’s advanced to the title game with a 79-65 victory over fourth-seeded Santa Clara in Monday night’s semifinals. Gonzaga followed with an 89-77 triumph over third-seeded San Francisco.

Gaels coach Randy Bennett is expecting another highly competitive game between the rivals.

“We have a big challenge ahead of us (Tuesday), but I was really proud of the way our guys played,” Bennett said after the win over Santa Clara. “There’s a lot of pressure in that game. It’s a tough game to play. These guys came ready to play.”

The Bulldogs have won their past nine games. They are playing in the WCC title game for the 27th straight season and will be looking for their 21st title during that span.

Saint Mary’s won this season’s first meeting, 64-62 on Feb. 3 in Spokane, Wash. Aidan Mahaney had a game-high 20 points for the Gaels.

Gonzaga evened the season series with a 70-57 victory on March 2 in Moraga, Calif. Graham Ike had game highs of 24 points and 10 rebounds for the Bulldogs.

Gonzaga coach Mark Few expects a bruising contest on Tuesday.

“It will be a low-possession game,” Few said. “The last time we played them, we were able to get some turnovers and were able to get out and run. The one in Spokane was a little slower. We led that one for quite a while, we just didn’t finish it off.

“They’re a great team, (Bennett’s) an awesome coach. I know this, it will be extremely, extremely physical.”

Fifth-year senior Alex Ducas had a stellar game for Saint Mary’s against Santa Clara, matching his career best of seven 3-pointers and scoring 21 points. It was just his second 20-point outing of the season.

“Every time I shoot the ball, I feel like it’s going in,” Ducas said. “It’s what I bring to the team, to space the floor and shoot the ball. My teammates and my coaches give me all the confidence in the world to keep doing it even if I miss a couple.”

Mason Forbes also was a standout with 18 points on 8-of-9 shooting.

Ben Gregg helped fuel Gonzaga with four 3-pointers over the first 6 1/2 minutes of the second half against Dons. The Bulldogs led by one at halftime, but Gregg’s final trey during his hot stretch made it 63-47.

The explosive run came after Gregg missed all four of his first-half shots.

“I got to come out and keep shooting my shot. I work so hard on it,” Gregg said afterward. “These guys gave me all the confidence in the world to keep on shooting it. I kept letting it fly and finally made a couple. It was a good feeling.”

Nolan Hickman scored a team-high 20 points and Anton Watson also had 17 points for the Bulldogs.

Saint Mary’s last won the tournament championship in 2019. Gonzaga has won the tourney each of the four seasons since.

–Field Level Media

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