Updated at: 02/15/2013 9:38 PM
By JOSH DUBOW
(AP) MORAGA, Calif. - Saint Mary’s barely had time to celebrate its first lead since the opening minute when Mitchell Young fouled Kevin Pangos 90 feet from the basket with 1.5 seconds to play in the first half.
Pangos hit those two free throws and No. 5 Gonzaga seized the momentum with a big second-half run that gave the Bulldogs a stranglehold on the West Coast Conference race with a 77-60 victory over Saint Mary’s on Thursday night.
"We fought back to get up, then we made some just not very smart plays starting after we hit that 3 and Mitch fouling," Gaels coach Randy Bennett said. "Then you spot them 10 and you’re digging your way out from there."
Gary Bell Jr. opened the second half with a 3-pointer that gave the Bulldogs (24-2, 11-0) the lead for good. Bell led Gonzaga with 20 points, Pangos added 18 and Kelly Olynyk scored 17 as Gonzaga took a two-game lead over the Gaels (21-5, 10-2) in the loss column after sweeping the season series.
Saint Mary’s ended Gonzaga’s 11-year run at the top of the conference by winning both the regular season and tournament titles last year.
"It means a lot to me and the guys who haven’t gotten one yet since we’ve been here," Pangos said. "It was huge for us. Now we’re that much closer to getting that conference title we didn’t get last year when they took it away from us."
Matthew Dellavedova scored 19 of his 22 points in the first half and Stephen Holt added 17 for the Gaels, who are still looking for that signature win to boost their chances of making the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history. Saint Mary’s has won 13 of 15 games, but both losses came against Gonzaga.
The Bulldogs took control early in the second half, scoring the first seven points in 1:06 to take the lead for good. They extended the advantage to 46-37 when Bell hit a 3-pointer after Gonzaga got two offensive rebounds on the trip. Olynyk’s 3-pointer as the shot clock ran down made it 52-37 with under 15 minutes to go to cap the 20-4 run to open the half.
"You don’t want to come out of the half playing like that against anybody," Dellavedova said. "It really sort of cost us tonight."
After rallying from 20 points down to have a chance to win the first meeting in Spokane, the Gaels were never able to get the deficit under four points the rest of the way.
Bell’s third 3-pointer of the second half gave the Bulldogs a 10-point lead with about 4 minutes left and Gonzaga went on to hand the Gaels their most lopsided home loss in eight years.
"It’s tough right now but we just have to flip the page," Holt said.
This proved to be another intense meeting between these fierce rivals who are tied for the most wins among any programs on the West Coast over the past six seasons. After spending years chasing Gonzaga in the WCC, the Gaels had won four of the past eight meetings heading into this game, including two conference tournament titles.
This was one of the most anticipated meetings between the schools, with Gonzaga chasing the top spot in the AP poll and Saint Mary’s looking to bolster its case for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament if the Gaels fail to repeat in next month’s conference tournament in Las Vegas.
The Bulldogs are the highest-ranked team to visit Moraga since No. 3 DePaul beat Saint Mary’s 76-74 in 1984-85. But the Gaels dropped to 0-9 against teams ranked in the top 5 and have just one win in 23 games against top 10 teams.
Gonzaga started off fast, using its strong inside game led by Olynyk to take a 26-17 lead with less than 6 minutes left in the opening half.
Then, Dellavedova shot Saint Mary’s right back into the game to the delight of the boisterous crowd. He hit three 3-pointers, including a deep one over 6-foot-8 Sam Dower that gave him 19 points in the half and tied the game at 30.
Walk-on Jordan Giusti gave the Gaels their first lead since scoring the first basket when he hit a 3 from the corner with 5 seconds left. Pangos’ free throws after Young’s foul cut Saint Mary’s lead to 33-32.
"They were hitting some crazy shots," Olynyk said. "Kudos to them for hitting them. But we knew they wouldn’t be able to beat us on those shots all game."
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)