SAN FRANCISCO -- Rob Jones had 14 points and 14 rebounds, Clint Steindl added 16 points and Saint Mary's (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today) beat San Francisco 67-60 on Saturday night to clinch the Gaels' first outright conference title in 23 years.
Matthew Dellavedova had 14 points while Brad Waldow recorded his third double-double this season with 10 points and 12 rebounds to help the Gaels end Gonzaga's 11-year hold on the West Coast Conference regular-season title. The two schools shared the championship in 2011.Saint Mary's players mobbed each other at midcourt following the final buzzer, then exchanged hugs with a smile from coach Randy Bennett."It's special any time you get a group of guys and staff, you go through the things that we went through and come out winning the title," Bennett said. "(San Francisco) has been playing really well. We took a tough shot from them and came out on top."A week earlier, San Francisco's players celebrated on the same spot after upsetting then-No. 24 Gonzaga, a win that kept Saint Mary's hopes alive for its first outright conference championship since 1989.It didn't come easily.The Gaels had problems scoring when the Dons went to a trapping defense in the second half and led by only three with 1:18 remaining.Jones, who grew up in San Francisco, helped Saint Mary's escape by making two free throws after being fouled with a second left on the shot clock. After Cody Doolin missed his 3-point attempt and Angelo Caloiaro air-balled a 3 for the Dons, Beau Levesque added a pair of free throws to account for the final margin."It's big, not just for this team but for the program," Jones said. "This solidifies that we're at the top."Doolin scored 13 points but had a 3-pointer rim out in the final 30 seconds for San Francisco, which dictated the tempo for the first 20 minutes before the Gaels took control after halftime.Saint Mary's became the first team other than Gonzaga to win the WCC regular-season title outright since Pepperdine did it in 1999-2000.As the Gaels players celebrated in their locker room, San Francisco guard Rashad Green angrily pounded on the door and later had to be escorted away by security. Green, who scored 10 points, threw a water bottle down the hallway while being led away.It was that type of night for the Dons (18-12, 8-8 WCC).San Francisco hasn't beaten Saint Mary's since 2006 and had the Gaels reeling in the first half. But the Dons shot just 37.3 percent after halftime and managed only two baskets over the final five minutes.Caloiaro and Perris Blackwell scored 12 points apiece for the Dons while Michael Williams had 10.Jones finished with his 18th double-double this season despite sitting out a long stretch in the first half after picking up two fouls in the first four minutes.A transfer two years ago from San Diego, Jones went 6 of 8 from the floor while keeping Blackwell silent most of the night.Despite Jones being limited, Saint Mary's stayed close and trailed by six with 5:22 left in the first half.Dellavedova made a pair of free throws and scored on a layup to help get the Gaels going before Steindl made a pair of 3-pointers on consecutive trips down the court to put Saint Mary's ahead 35-33.Caloiaro, who made two deep 3s before the Gaels' late surge, scored on a layup to tie the game for the Dons. Dellavedova broke the tie with a free throw before Blackwell's putback gave the Dons a 37-36 halftime lead.Saint Mary's opened the second half with a 12-2 run and led 48-44 when San Francisco coach Rex Walters picked up a technical foul after angrily stomping his feet following a non-call.
Saint Mary's win at San Francisco gave the Gaels sole possession of first in the West Coast Conference, snapping Gonzaga's streak of 11 straight years with at least a share of the regular-season title.
With the Zags loss, Kansas has the longest active streak of regular-season titles. The Jayhawks win over Missouri locked up at least a share of the Big 12 title for the eighth straight season.