LAS VEGAS — Gonzaga was at its free-flowing best on offense and shut down Saint Mary’s on the defensive end.
Another dominating performance, another trip to the West Coast Conference Tournament title game.
Win one more and the Zags will enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated.
Drew Timme scored 18 points, Joel Ayayi added 16 and top-ranked Gonzaga racked up another lopsided win, blowing past Saint Mary’s 78-55 in the WCC semifinals on Monday night.
“These guys have shown all year how competitive they are and as we moved toward the NCAA Tournament – it was taken away from them last year – I think we’ll get even an increased effort moving forward,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
The Bulldogs (25-0) dominated from a big opening run and led by 18 at halftime to cruise into their nation-best 24th conference tournament title game. Gonzaga shot 53% as it tied the school record with its 29th straight win, dating to last season, and has won 22 straight games by double digits.
Jalen Suggs scored 15 points for the Zags, who will play BYU on Tuesday night for a chance to win their ninth WCC title in 11 years.
All but assured of a No. 1 seed, Gonzaga has a chance to become the first team to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated since Kentucky in 2014-15.
“This thing about this team and this system is it doesn’t matter who scores,” Timme said. “Anybody can score on any given night. I don’t care, the guys don’t care. We just care about winning.”
The Gaels (14-9) were little more than a speed bump against Gonzaga’s ultra-efficient offense and struggled to get their own shots to fall, shooting 2 for 20 from 3-point range.
Logan Johnson led Saint Mary’s with 15 points.
“We’re going to have to have an `A’ game to play them close and we didn’t,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “We shot the ball bad.”
Gonzaga won the two regular-season meetings by double digits.
The Zags had to overcome a slow start to win 73-59 in Moraga, California, but won 87-65 in Spokane, Washington, on Feb. 17 to secure their 10th regular-season WCC title in 11 years.
Gonzaga got off to a quick start in the third go-round, going up nine in the opening 4 1/2 minutes while putting on an offensive display in a dominating first half.
The Zags hit 18 of 28 shots and Timme had 15 points in 17 minutes to give his team a 44-26 halftime lead.
The Gaels spent most of the first half struggling to get into their offense, repeatedly forcing up shots late in the shot clock.
Gonzaga pushed its lead to 27 in the first five minutes of the second half and, despite a short letup that had Few fuming, won another lopsided game.
“Defensively, that’s what we prided ourselves on this year and they’re just a tough team to stop,” said Saint Mary’s Tommy Kuhse, who had 13 points.
Saint Mary’s has given the Zags trouble in the WCC Tournament in previous years, but doesn’t have the firepower to hang with them this season.
Timme has played well all season and was dominant on Monday night.
The 6-foot-10 sophomore used his impeccable footwork to maneuver up, under and around the Gaels, hitting 8 of 11 shots. Timme also had eight rebounds, four assists and a steal.
“I’m on him a lot in practice and I probably don’t tell him enough how good he is,” Few said. “He’s a joy to coach and I think he’s getting better on the defensive end. I’m proud of him in that area.”
Led by Timme, Gonzaga dominated the paint.
The Bulldogs had a 54-32 scoring advantage inside and grabbed 13 more rebounds.
Orleans Arena is typically filled with roaring fans during the WCC Tournament, particular when Gonzaga is playing.
The compact arena was all but empty this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, with the sounds of yelling coaches and players echoing off the rafters.
“It’s a tough way to play. It’s like a scrimmage,” Bennett said. “It’s not all about the fans, but the fans do make it fun.”
Gonzaga will face the BYU in Tuesday’s championship game.
Saint Mary’s is hoping to get an NIT invite.