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Gonzaga Forces OT But Loses WCC Tourney Title

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Elias Harris of the Gonzaga Bulldogs is guarded by Clint Steindl of the Saint Mary's Gaels during the championship game of the Zappos.com West Coast Conference Basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena March 5, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (credit: Ethan Miller/GettyImages)

Elias Harris of the Gonzaga Bulldogs is guarded by Clint Steindl of the Saint Mary’s Gaels during the championship game of the Zappos.com West Coast Conference Basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena March 5, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (credit: Ethan Miller/GettyImages)

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Gonzaga players could have given up when they were down by five points with just 30 seconds remaining.

Elias Harris wouldn’t let them.

Harris scored on a driving layup with 16 seconds left, then hit a 3-pointer with 2 ticks on the clock to force overtime.

In the end, Saint Mary’s simply had too much for Gonzaga, and held on for the 78-74 overtime victory Monday night to claim its second West Coast Conference tournament title and automatic NCAA bid in three years.

“It was a great battle. They are a great team,” Harris said of Saint Mary’s. “They hurt us on the boards and we made too many defensive mistakes. One thing led to another and they were up.”

It was the first time the Gaels (27-5) have won the regular-season title outright and claimed the tourney championship in the same year.

Now they go on to the NCAA tournament, and the No. 24 Bulldogs, who were playing in their 15th straight WCC title game, have to wait to see if their 25-6 record is enough to get them in.

Gonzaga coach Mark Few certainly thought so, calling Monday’s battle a great game “between two high-level tournament teams.”

“Forty minutes wasn’t enough so we needed another five, and in the end they stepped up and made the big shots,” Few said of the fourth overtime final in WCC tourney history.

The one player who had been a big weapon for Gonzaga struggled.

Freshman Kevin Pangos, the WCC newcomer of the year, had a miserable night. He finished with seven points on 3-of-18 shooting and was just 1 of 10 from 3-point range, two days after a 30-point night against Brigham Young.

“My teammates found me. I had good looks. I just didn’t knock them down,” Pangos said.

Harris led Gonzaga with 22 points, including a 3-pointer with 2 seconds left in regulation to force the extra period.

“I tried to get open and somehow shoot with confidence,” Harris said of the game-tying 3. “Sam (Dower) saw me on top and threw me a great pass, and I felt comfortable enough to shoot it.”

WCC player of the year Matthew Dellavedova had a chance to win it at the buzzer in regulation but his runner bounced off the rim. He made sure to seal it at the free throw line in OT, especially after he got a critical call when colliding with Pangos going for a rebound near the scorer’s table with 39 seconds left.

Dellavedova got the foul, and sank both free throws, then added two more to finish with a team-high 22 points.

“The stars showed up tonight,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “It was fun, a little too exciting down the stretch. … but I’m really pleased.”

Rob Jones added 18 points and nine rebounds for the Gaels.

The teams were meeting for the 12th time in four years in a rivalry that is perhaps the fiercest on the West Coast right now.

At least one player called it a “hate-hate” relationship before the game, with Gonzaga center Robert Sacre saying Monday’s game was personal and a matter of pride.

It lived up to its billing.

There were 14 lead changes and nine ties.

Gonzaga led by eight points in the first half before Saint Mary’s closed on a 10-2 run to make it 36-all at the break.

Saint Mary’s led by as many as eight points early in the second half, but Gonzaga hung tight, pulling within 63-62 on Pangos’ only 3-pointer with 3:58 left.

The Gaels still led 68-63 with 31 seconds left, but Harris hit a driving layup with 15 seconds remaining and then sank the tying 3-pointer.

Both teams had chances to take command in overtime.

Sacre, who finished with 17 points, sank two free throws for a 70-68 Gonzaga lead. It was tied at 72 before Dellavedova and Page combined for four straight free throws to make it a four-point game.

Dower’s layup with 12 seconds left in OT got Gonzaga within two again but that was as close as the Bulldogs got. Dellavedova was fouled breaking through the full-court press, and converted the free throws for the final margin.

“Everybody wants to make it, ‘They hate us we hate them’ rivalry,” Bennett said. “Yes, it’s a rivalry but only because we’ve gotten good enough where we can beat them sometimes. But I have a ton of respect for their program. … I don’t know if anybody has done a better job of running a program the past 11 years than them. We’re chasing a pretty high bar. It’s nice to finally say, ‘Hey, we did have the upper hand.’ But next year will be next year.”

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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