St. Mary’s Gaels vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs Preview and Pick – West Coast Conference Finals

Saint Marys Gaels +7 (25-5) 14-11 ATS, 12-13 O/U vs. No. 14 Gonzaga Bulldogs -7 (25-5) 15-12 ATS, 15-12 O/U Monday, March 09, 2009 at The Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada 9:00 p.m. EST. TV: ESPN

By Wilson of

Welcome to the big show! Yes college hoop fans, March Madness has officially arrived as championship week is underway. Whats a better place to get the action going than Vegas? Tonights matchup will be a good one as both teams have played each other extremely tough in their two previous meetings. Gonzaga won both contests this year against the Gaels in conference play but albeit by a combined 9 points; the first matchup at Gonzaga on January 29 69-62 and again at Saint Marys February 12, 72-70. The table is set for a classic tournament championship game as Gonzaga looks to win their 9th WCC Title in 11 years. The Bulldogs only losses in the last 11 years were to San Diego in 2003 and 2008.

Saint Marys will perhaps have more pressure to win as they are not a guarantee to make the NCAAs. Gonzaga, on the other hand is a sure lock to make the tournament with their No. 14 ranking and strength of schedule (non-conference). The Gaels are recipients of a number of voters who feel they should be in the top 25 polls but are not quite their, so they will probably need to secure the automatic spot by beating the Zags tonight in the desert.

The Gaels knocked off Portland 71-61 in a game where the Gaels all star guard, Patrick Mills, made his return from a five week absence due to a broken hand. Mills managed to score 12 points although he looked a bit rusty which is expected after such an injury. Never the less, the Gaels got it done as Diamon Simpson poured in 15 points and 14 rebounds along with Omar Samhans 12 points and 13 boards to earn a chance for the title tonight under the neon sky of Las Vegas.

Saint Marys enters tonights game averaging 73.7 ppg and allowing 63.3 to their opponents. The Gaels are 5-2 ATS in their last seven games versus the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs come into the Orleans Arena averaging 78.8 ppg while only giving up 61.4 to the opposition. Gonzaga head coach, Mark few was pleased with his teams performance on both ends of the floor in their win over Santa Clara. Few has mentioned how the staff has really put an emphasis on their defensive play which has hampered them in the past, especially in the NCAA Tournaments.

As for players to watch for the Zags; take your pick. Last night it was Austin Daye who scored a career-high 28 points on 10-13 shooting and drained 3 of 4 3-point shots. When hes shooting 3s hes virtually unstoppable because of his ability to take people off the dribble and also post up, teammate Micah Downs said. Austin was great.

The Bulldogs also played well down low with the play of Josh Heytvelt who only scored three points but more importantly held Santa Claras big-man John Bryant to 13 points and 10 rebounds. Bryant is the WCC Player of the year. Heytvelt has improved 300 percent according to coach Few, commenting about his post defense.

Behind guards Jeremy Pargo and Matt Bouldin the Zags look to push the ball up the court as always and attack with their quickness. The big question in tonights game will be the play of Patrick Mills and his leadership after returning from the long injury. Mills will need to be the engine for the Gaels which proved to be successful last night against Portland but how will he respond to the speed and athleticism of the Zags?

The Bulldogs definitely made a statement by demolishing Santa Clara last night. It will be interesting to see if the Zags can duplicate that effort tonight against a much stronger Saint Marys squad. The Bulldogs shot 56 percent from the field and 59 percent from 3-point land in last nights win over Santa Clara. Can the Zags put up those kinds of numbers again? Tune in tonight at 6:00 p.m. (Pacific Time) and see for yourself.

Wilsons Pick: Gonzaga wins and covers the West Coast Conference Finals. Luck to ya.