Gonzaga, Saint Mary's guards fuel heated rivalry
LAS VEGAS (AP)
The player Gonzaga teammates call ''The Machine'' grew up in a Toronto suburb where hockey is king.
His counterpart for Saint Mary's is simply ''Delly'' - a scruffy, scrappy point guard who hails from Australia, where basketball falls far below rugby on the popularity scale.
Despite their different upbringing, both make their teams go, and Monday night will be no different when the Bulldogs and Gaels square off in the finals of the West Coast Conference tournament for the fourth straight season.
Kevin Pangos, the WCC newcomer of the year, guided Gonzaga to its 15th consecutive finals appearance with a 30-point effort Saturday night in a 77-58 win over Brigham Young.
Earlier on Saturday, Matthew Dellavedova poured in 12 of his 17 points in the second half as top-seeded Saint Mary's rallied for an 83-78 victory over San Francisco.
''He's becoming the head of the monster up there,'' Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said of Pangos, a 6-foot-1 freshman.
Pangos made nine 3-pointers and scored 33 points in his first career start, Nov. 14 against Washington State.
On Saturday, he made five 3s and 10 of 17 shots overall.
''Everything he threw up went in,'' Bennett said of Pangos, who chose Gonzaga over Michigan, Syracuse, Cincinnati and UNLV. ''He's a good player. He will make you pay if you slip up. He's an elite shooter; he can really line it up and stroke it. You just can't let him have those, but easier said than done. An offensive board gets tipped out, or there's a loose ball ... he'll come up with those. Every way he can get his shot, he knows how to do it.''
Dellavedova, the WCC player of the year, is every bit as crucial for Saint Mary's with his reliable shooting, slick passing and mental toughness.
''Matt's greatest strength is his leadership,'' Bennett said of the 6-4 junior. ''Everybody recognizes him as a competitor, but where he separates himself (is leadership). I don't know that you can teach guys to do what he does.''
In the last meeting between the schools, a 73-59 Gonzaga win Feb. 9 in Spokane, Wash., Pangos scored a game-high 27 points, going 5 for 6 from beyond the arc. Dellavedova led Saint Mary's with 20 points but was only 5 of 12 from the field.
In the first game, an 83-62 Saint Mary's win Jan. 12 in Moraga, Calif., Dellavedova had a monster game. He led all scorers with 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting, including five 3s. Pangos was held to 12 points but still made three 3s.
While Pangos and Dellavedova have faced each other just twice so far, the Bulldogs and Gaels are familiar foes.
They have met in the WCC championship game the past three years, and five of the last eight. Gonzaga won in 2004, 2005, 2009 and 2011, while Saint Mary's took the crown in 2010.
Coaches prefer to talk about mutual respect between teams headed to the NCAA tournament, but Bulldogs center Robert Sacre goes much further.
The feisty senior calls the fierce rivalry a love-hate relationship - one that makes each team better.
''Both teams and fans hate each other,'' Sacre said Sunday. ''We have this mutual hate when it comes to the basketball court. There's nothing like it. I don't think there's anything like it in the country, to be honest.''
While Saint Mary's won the regular-season title outright for the first time since 1989, it has never won the conference tournament the same year.
Gonzaga wants to ensure that doesn't happen Monday.
''We're not trying to be cocky, but we don't want them to get the championship,'' said Sacre, the WCC defensive player of the year. ''So it's business and it's personal. It's a pride game. We're playing for pride.''
Pangos, even as a freshman, gets it - though he used the words ''strongly dislike'' rather than hate.
''Both teams don't accept failure, don't accept losing,'' Pangos said. ''That's what makes the rivalry great. I think it will be a fun game.''
Gonzaga's women, meanwhile, are trying to win their fourth straight WCC tourney title but will have to go through conference newcomer BYU in Monday's championship.
''We know Gonzaga has dominated this league for a long time now,'' BYU guard Haley Steed said. ''It's been their thing. We're the new guys. We don't really care who's won it in the past or what's been going on. And we're not trying to send a message to anybody. We're trying to win the tournament and (qualify) for NCAAs.''