LAS VEGAS (AP) — The championship matchup that seemed inevitable will take place Tuesday night, but No. 9 Gonzaga had to work to make it happen.
Anton Watson scored 20 points and Drew Timme had 17 to help the Bulldogs beat pesky San Francisco 84-73 on Monday night and advance to yet another West Coast Conference title game.
“I thought Anton was spectacular tonight and it was just big time, especially (that) they chose not to guard him,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “I’m not sure why teams are doing that right now because he’s playing at an extremely high level, but we’re glad to see it. He went out there and delivered in so many ways like he always does.”
The Bulldogs (27-5) will face No. 16 Saint Mary’s (26-6) for the tournament crown. The teams split two regular-season meetings.
“We kind of have a respected hatred for each other,” Timme said. “We all play hard and it brings out the best in all of us, and that’s what the game is all about. It’s kind of like a controlled rage. It happens between the two programs and there’s no love lost, but at the end of the day, we respect each other.”
Julian Strawther scored 15 points while playing in his hometown and Ben Gregg had 12 for Gonzaga.
Timme increased his total to 2,192 points and moved within five of passing Frank Burgess for Gonzaga’s career record.
Khalil Shabazz led San Francisco (20-14) with 26 points. Tyrell Roberts scored 17 and Marcus Williams 11.
Gonzaga is in the conference championship game for the 26th time in a row. The Zags have won this event 20 times.
They enter on an eight-game winning streak. Gonzaga’s last loss? In overtime at Saint Mary’s.
Getting to this championship game was anything but easy against San Francisco, which was the sixth seed and beat third-seeded Santa Clara 93-87 on Saturday. Shabazz scored a career-high 38 points in that game, and he was quite a handful for Gonzaga.
Shabazz kept the Dons within striking distance most of the night. San Francisco pulled to 56-54 with 11:59 left, but Gonzaga then eased away to secure the victory.
“We had that game down to a one-possession game,” San Francisco coach Chris Gerlufsen said. “Had two possessions where it was a two-point margin and just could not get over the hump in that segment.”
San Francisco: There were questions about whether the Dons would take a step forward this season after coach Todd Golden left for Florida after taking San Francisco to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. Gerlufsen kept the Dons relevant with a 20-win season, but San Francisco is a tough place to win. Whether he can sustain it is the question.
Gonzaga: Few continues to win at a high rate. The Bulldogs have made the WCC final in 24 years under his watch, and a victory Tuesday would be his 19th conference tournament championship. Gonzaga is 50-5 under Few in this tournament, including 31-3 since it relocated to Las Vegas in 2009.
Gonzaga will play for a potential No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament when it faces Saint Mary’s.
San Francisco waits to see if it has a shot at the NIT.
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