Saint Mary’s seeks another WCC final upset of No. 2 Zags

NCAA Men's Basketball

Jordan Ford is elevating his reputation as a clutch player, and he will see if he has one more memory-making shot left in his weaponry when he and Saint Mary’s face No. 2 Gonzaga in Tuesday night’s West Coast Conference tournament championship game at Las Vegas.

Ford drained the winning shot with 1.4 seconds left Monday in the Gaels’ 51-50 semifinal victory over No. 14 Brigham Young for his second straight heroic effort.

The senior point guard scored a career-high 42 points Saturday as Saint Mary’s earned a 89-82 double-overtime victory over Pepperdine in the quarterfinals. Ford converted the tiebreaking layup with two minutes left in OT while scoring the game’s final seven points.

His point total against second-seeded BYU was a pedestrian 18 on 7-of-15 shooting, but he was ready when the game was on the line.

“I stayed aggressive down the stretch, even if I was missing or making,” Ford said in a postgame interview on ESPN2. “That’s what I got to do — stay aggressive because shots will fall.”

Ford will now look to help the third-seeded Gaels (26-7) upset the top-seeded Bulldogs (30-2) in the title game for the second straight year. Saint Mary’s stunned then-No. 1 Gonzaga 60-47 in last season’s finale.

The Bulldogs are projected as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Prognosticators also have Saint Mary’s solidly part of the 68-team field.

Gonzaga is playing in its 23rd consecutive WCC championship game. The Bulldogs have won 16 of the last 22 conference tournament titles.

Gonzaga advanced by fighting off pesky San Francisco in its semifinal contest. The fifth-seeded Dons had a chance to tie the game, but Khalil Shabazz’s 3-pointer with 18 seconds left bounced off the rim, and the Bulldogs escaped with an 81-77 victory.

Gonzaga has had a much easier time against the Gaels, winning this season’s two meetings by an average of 20 points. The Bulldogs romped 90-60 at home on Feb. 8 and posted an 86-76 victory at Saint Mary’s on Feb. 29.

Ford averaged 25.5 points in the two meetings. The Gaels had troubles stopping WCC Player of the Year Filip Petrusev as the Gonzaga sophomore power forward averaged 22.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in the two wins.

The Bulldogs reached the 30-win mark for the fourth consecutive season and are assured of their 22nd straight NCAA Tournament appearance. Coach Mark Few gushed about the feats — including the 23rd straight conference-title-game appearance — in the aftermath of the Monday victory.

“We’ve had some incredible streaks at Gonzaga,” Few said in the postgame press conference. “The NCAA is probably the one we’re most proud of. The fact we can come down here and fight our tails off like we did, against a really good team that gave us their best shot and pushed us to the limit, we’ve had to do that numerous times down here, fully knowing we’re playing on after this.”

Bulldogs senior forward Killian Tillie recorded 19 points and 10 rebounds against San Francisco even though he tweaked his troublesome left ankle in the second half. He has missed nine games this season due to knee, ankle or hip injuries.

“Just shook it off, played through it,” Tillie said. “Obviously it’s not great, but I’ll just play through it. I’m not going to give up.”

Not giving up appears to be Ford’s mantra. He fell two points shy of his 21st 20-point effort on a night in which his team recovered from an 11-point, second-half deficit despite shooting just 36.5 percent.

“It wasn’t a pretty game, but it turned out good for us,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said during the postgame press conference. “It was just a battle. Neither team was real good offensively, and we happened to have (the) last possession, and our guy Ford stuck another big shot. It was a great win.”

Ford’s back-to-back efforts in the tournament raise his career point total to 1,902. He ranks second in school history behind Matthew Dellavedova (1,933 from 2009-13).

–Field Level Media

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