MORAGA -- A third consecutive West Coast Conference crown for the Saint Mary's College men's basketball team is in serious jeopardy after the Gaels suffered a 77-60 loss to No. 5 Gonzaga on Thursday night.
The Gaels had their nine-game winning streak snapped and fell to 10-2 in conference play in front of a sellout crowd of 3,500 at McKeon Pavilion. Meanwhile the Bulldogs remain unbeaten against WCC foes.
Saint Mary's (21-5) will need Gonzaga (24-2, 11-0 WCC) to lose two of its remaining five conference games in order to have a shot at sharing the regular-season crown.
"We had a chance to control it tonight, and we missed on an opportunity," said Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett. "(Gonzaga) took advantage of it."
Saint Mary's guard Stephen Holt said the Bulldogs, who had their streak of 11 straight conference titles snapped by the Gaels last season, were more physical and hungrier.
Bennett thought his team played well for much of the game. Rather, it was a five-minute lapse to start the second-half that proved to be the Gaels' undoing.
Gonzaga recovered from a halftime deficit by scoring seven quick points out of the break. The surge turned into a 20-4 run, and the Gaels couldn't make up the difference.
"They just came out with a lot more energy," Holt said of the big run. "We just weren't ready in the second half like we should have been. ... That one lapse against great teams, you're not going to beat them if you
Gary Bell Jr. paced Gonzaga with 20 points, connecting on all four of his 3-point attempts in the second half. Kevin Pangos added 18 points.
A hot-shooting first-half by Matthew Dellavedova wasn't enough for the Gaels. The reigning WCC Player of the Year scored 19 of his team-high 22 points in the opening period by connecting on 5 of 7 attempts from beyond the arc.
He hit back-to-back 3-pointers with under 1:30 to go in the half to tie the score at 30. Jordan Giusti, a walk-on redshirt freshman, then drilled a corner 3-pointer for the Gaels' first lead since the opening minute.
"If Matt doesn't hit some really tough shots in the first half, then we don't get back on top," Bennett said. "I thought he was exceptional. He had guys fouling him, pushing him. He fought through all that stuff and still was really good offensively."
Dellavedova's only basket of the second-half, a 3-pointer with 6:49 to go, pulled Saint Mary's as close as it would get after Gonzaga's run, at 56-52.
Holt finished with 17 points and picked up the scoring load when Dellavedova went quiet.
Kelly Olynyk scored Gonzaga's first six points and had 12 by halftime. The 7-foot forward finished with 17 points after scoring 31 in the teams' first meeting this year.
Olynyk also had seven rebounds as the Gaels were beaten on the boards -- a rare occurrence for the WCC's best rebounding team. Gonzaga finished with a 37-25 advantage.