LAS VEGAS -- Saint Mary's hasn't played a No. 1-ranked team in 12 seasons and has never beaten one.

But the Gaels' matchup with Gonzaga in Monday night's West Coast Conference tournament final isn't a trek into foreign territory.

"It's a familiar foe," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said.

The Bulldogs (30-2) have been at No. 1 for only a week, but the Gaels (27-5) are playing them for the 15th time in five seasons, the fifth straight year in the WCC tournament final.

"It's going to be about doing things a little better than we've done the first two times we played them," said Bennett, whose team trailed by just one point in the final minute at Spokane on Jan. 10 before losing 83-78.

Saint Mary's has won four of the past nine matchups, including last season's WCC title game, creating a rivalry from what once was a one-sided relationship. Before the 2010 WCC championship, Gonzaga beat the Gaels 28 of 31 times.

Asked his feelings about the Bulldogs, Gaels star Matthew Dellavedova said, "We obviously respect them, but it's definitely fierce, and no one's going to be taking a backward step tomorrow."

Gonzaga forward Elias Harris called it a "love-hate relationship," but Zags coach Mark Few suggested things are different from a few years ago, when SMC's Omar Samhan and Gonzaga's Adam Morrison and Robert Sacre fueled the series with trash talk.


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"If we're going to start citing Rob and Adam -- guys who are out on Mars -- I don't know if we kind of fit into their train of thought," he said.

The Gaels enter the game with a sturdy No. 31 RPI computer ranking and without a loss to anyone other than Gonzaga since before Christmas. To be sure of an NCAA tournament spot, they'll need to beat Gonzaga to win the league's automatic bid.

That will require doing a better job defensively on WCC Player of the Year Kelly Olynyk, who totaled 48 points the first two meetings.

The Gaels also hope to get a lift from sophomore Brad Waldow, who had his best game with 23 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked shots in the 69-66 overtime semifinal win Saturday over San Diego.

It was a full night for Waldow, who later visited an oral surgeon after having one tooth knocked out and another bent backward by an elbow from USD's Chris Manresa late in the game. He's wearing a wire brace across his upper teeth to stabilize them.

Waldow immediately ran to the sidelines, where Bennett recoiled as Waldow tried to give him the tooth.

"Everybody was texting me, 'Did you see his reaction?' " Waldow said. "I ended up watching a YouTube video on it -- it was pretty funny."

Few came to the defense of his coaching rival. "I probably would have reacted the same way Randy did," he said.

  • The Gaels are 0-7 all-time vs. No. 1 teams, with six of those games vs. Bay Area rival USF, including four during the 1954-55 and '55-56 seasons against teams featuring Bill Russell. SMC's most recent stab at No. 1 resulted in a 101-41 loss at Arizona on Dec. 2, 2000.