Zags, Saint Mary’s meet for Best of West

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SEATTLE — The West Coast Conference’s social event of the year, Part II, takes place Thursday night in Moraga, Calif., where Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s stage their latest battle for supremacy of the league in men’s basketball.

It’s possible that in tandem, the two have never in their heated recent history been playing at a higher level. The Zags (23-2) are ranked No. 3 this week by the coaches, and since Christmas unranked Saint Mary’s (21-4) has only an 83-78 loss Jan. 10 at GU.

The two are the clear leaders in the WCC. A Gonzaga win would essentially cinch no worse than a tie for the regular-season title for the Zags, but a Saint Mary’s victory knots the teams in the loss column with Gonzaga facing a tougher finishing stretch, including a Feb. 28 game at Brigham Young.

It was Saint Mary’s that broke Gonzaga’s 11-year streak of regular-season conference titles a year ago, and the Gaels reinforced the banner year by winning the league tournament. GU has won nine of 13 since 2009.

“We’re not the best team in the West Coast Conference right now,” insisted Gonzaga reserve forward Sam Dower early this week, referring to Saint Mary’s breakthrough last year. “We have to go out and show we’re the best team. We didn’t win it last year, so we still have a lot to prove.”

The game matches two of the most efficient offenses in the country. Gonzaga rates No. 4 in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings and the Gaels are No. 7.

It represents not only a chance for Gonzaga to better its position in the league, but to solidify its prospects for a high seed in the NCAA tournament.

Meanwhile, Saint Mary’s isn’t yet a lock for the NCAA, and a victory would be the Gaels’ biggest this year.

“It’ll be a very intense game, very physical,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few. “There will certainly be a lot of energy in that tiny little building.”

He was referencing 3,500-seat McKeon Pavilion.

Gonzaga’s chief worry will be Saint Mary’s leading scorer, senior point guard Matthew Dellavedova, who averages 15.9 and has 99 more assists than turnovers. The team shoots a brisk .395 from 3-point range.

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