By Matt Youmans
VSiN senior editor
Even with his nemesis looming in the other half of the bracket, it’s a safe bet that Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett will not be looking ahead.
In the West Coast Conference’s hate triangle this season, Gonzaga has owned the Gaels, who have owned Brigham Young. And, of course, the Cougars handed the Zags their one black eye.
It all sets up at least one intriguing semifinal matchup in the WCC tournament.
Saint Mary’s is a 7½-point favorite over BYU at 8:30 p.m. today in Las Vegas. The Gaels (27-3) won each of the regular-season meetings by 13 points. But Bennett knows two blowouts guarantee nothing the third time around, and the Cougars (22-10) are a more confident team after knocking Gonzaga off its No. 1 perch on Feb. 25.
“I know Saint Mary’s has handled them twice, but I’m looking at that price, and it might be a little much,” said Bruce Marshall, handicapper for The Gold Sheet. “The Cougars are not chopped liver. It’s a team that can score, so the back door is always open. BYU looks like kind of a dangerous ‘dog. I think it’s BYU or pass.”
Saint Mary’s is considered safely in the NCAA Tournament field. But for BYU, it’s win two more or wait for the NIT.
This is a collision between the conference’s most athletic big men — the Gaels’ 6-foot-11 Jock Landale and the Cougars’ 6-10 Eric Mika. In early January, Landale scored 26 points in an 81-68 win for Saint Mary’s. Mika more than held his ground with 28 points and 10 rebounds.
The winner likely faces Gonzaga (30-1) in Tuesday’s title game at Orleans Arena, where the Zags always get strong fan support and essentially have home-court advantage.
In a game that tips at 6 p.m., Gonzaga is a 21½-point favorite over Santa Clara (17-15). The line opened at 20 and with around 90 percent of the tickets on the favorite, the move up is trending toward 22. The Zags, 21-6-1 against the spread, crushed the Broncos 88-57 and 90-55 in the regular season.
Senior guard Jared Brownridge scored 28 points to carry Santa Clara to a 76-69 victory over San Francisco in Saturday’s quarterfinals. On the same night, Gonzaga closed as a 28-point favorite over Pacific. The Zags pulled away to an 82-50 win after leading by only two at halftime.
“Because of Brownridge, Santa Clara is probably not going to go that cold and allow Gonzaga to run away,” Marshall said.