Gonzaga's dominance of WCC on the line

NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS Associated Press Published:

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) -- Gonzaga's streak of 11 consecutive West Coast Conference regular-season titles, the second-longest run in Division I history, is in danger of being snapped.

With only six games left, Gonzaga (18-4, 8-2 WCC) is three games behind No. 16 Saint Mary's heading into Thursday night's showdown between the league's top two teams.

Saint Mary's (22-2, 11-0) crushed Gonzaga at home 83-62 a month ago. The Zags realize this is a must-win game if they want to keep their faint hopes of a 12th consecutive league title alive.

"We have a lot to lose," Gonzaga center Sam Dower said. "They (Saint Mary's) really don't have anything to lose."

While a Saint Mary's loss would still leave the Gaels in first place, a Gonzaga loss could drop the Bulldogs into third in the WCC.

UCLA holds the Division I record by winning 13 consecutive regular-season titles from 1967-79. After Gonzaga's 11, Connecticut and UNLV are tied for third with 10 each.

The current Zags were in elementary school or younger when the team launched the steak in the 2000-01 season with a squad that featured Gonzaga greats Dan Dickau and Casey Calvary. The Zags have owned the WCC since, going undefeated in the league three times.

This year has been a struggle because the WCC is tougher and because the Zags are starting two freshmen at guard and getting uneven play from their front line.

Center Robert Sacre said the streak is not something to dwell on.

"There is pride, but I don't think we think about it," Sacre said. "We focus on playing basketball and let everything else work itself out."

Coach Mark Few is more worried about the future than the past.

"We've got the No. 1 team in the league coming into our home floor," Few said. "We're going to have to play very, very well."

A key factor in the first game was that Saint Mary's front line outplayed the Gonzaga bigs. Brad Waldow had 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Gaels, while Rob Jones added 11 rebounds. Sacre was held to just 4 points.

"Since that game we've been working on post defense, obviously," Dower said. "We will be more prepared this time."

Gonzaga's other conference loss was at BYU, 83-73 last Thursday. The Cougars visit Spokane on Feb. 23 in another key showdown.

Gonzaga's other losses this year are to Illinois and Michigan State.

Few said the Zags have to return to their strengths if they want to beat Saint Mary's.

"We have to get back to defending with a passion and rebounding with a passion," Few said. "That's when we definitely are at our best."