Gonzaga is headed to the NCAA tournament for the second time in its history, and an extraordinary display of outside shooting got it there.
The top-shooting 3-point team in the West Coast Conference, Gonzaga connected from beyond the arc 18 times, including eight by Matt Santangelo, and overwhelmed Santa Clara 91-66 in Monday night's tournament championship game.
"I told the team we were not going to play afraid," Gonzaga coach Dan Monson said. "We were going to dictate this game. We're the best team in the tournament. We just needed to go out and play."
And play they did.
Santangelo, the unanimous tournament MVP, matched his career high with 34 points, Quentin Hall had 19 and Richie Frahm added 18
all on 3-pointers.
"Tonight for us they were unstoppable," Santa Clara coach Dick Davey said. "We weren't able to defend them. They were too active and too efficient in their play. They created a lot of problems for us."
With the victory, Gonzaga (25-6) set a school record for wins in a season and secured an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament as the WCC representative. The Bulldogs were coming off a 24-10 campaign last season.
Gonzaga was making its fifth appearance in the tournament final. Its only other victory came in 1995, when it went to the NCAA tournament for the first time and lost in the opening round.
Alex Lopez's 18 points led Santa Clara (14-15). Darrell Teat added 13 points.
"I thought our concentration was at an utmost high," Monson said. "We came to play. This is something we have worked for for a year."
"I could tell by the look in their eyes they were not to be denied. Everybody stepped up. To answer the question I've been asked for the last month, I think this gets us in."
Up by nine points at halftime, Gonzaga stretced its lead to 57-40 amid another flurry of 3-pointers.
Santa Clara scored the first four points in the second half but the Bulldogs answered with another barrage from the outside. Frahm and Santangelo hit consecutive 3-pointers to start a 17-5 run and Santa Clara just couldn't stay with the Bulldogs, who beat the Broncos for a third time this season.
Gonzaga relied on its outside shooting to build a 40-31 halftime lead, putting in nine 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes.
Santangelo accounbted for four of them, the last coming with 1:40 left to give the Bulldogs a 40-27 lead. Lopez made one of two free throws and Nathan Fast hit a 3-pointer in the last minute to narrow the gap.
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