March 8 (UPI) -- Gonzaga captured its fifth consecutive West Coast Conference tournament title behind 22 points, six assists and six rebounds by guard Nigel Williams-Goss in the fourth-ranked Bulldogs' 74-56 victory over No. 19 Saint Mary's on Tuesday night in Las Vegas.
The Bulldogs improved 32-1 overall with victory, strengthening their bid for a No. 1 seed when the field for the NCAA Tournament is announced Sunday. Saint Mary's (28-4) is expected to join Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament, as three of the Gaels' losses came against Gonzaga.
"Our chemistry is at an all-time high right now," said Williams-Goss, who was selected the tournament's most outstanding player. "We genuinely love each other off the court and that shows on the court."
Calvin Hermanson led Saint Mary's with 14 points. Jock Landale was the only other double-figure scorer for the Gaels with 10 points.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few, whose team held the Gaels to 36.8 percent shooting from the field, went on the defensive when asked after the game about the perception of the Bulldogs building their NCAA tournament resume against suspect competition in the WCC.
"I don't need to say anything to them," Few said in response to what he would say to the naysayers. "We're 32-1. We've stepped up to every challenge. From Nov. 10 to March 7 we have not taken a night off."
Few went on to list wins against Florida, Iowa State, Arizona and the three against Saint Mary's as being impressive enough to merit a potential No. 1 seed.
Saint Mary's came out cold from the start in Tuesday's game, shooting only 21.4 percent (6 of 28) from the field in the first half while committing 10 turnovers.
That giveaway number at halftime nearly matched the team's season average of 10.4. The Gaels finished with 14 turnovers and just 10 assists.
"That was as bad of a half as we played all year," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "Our margin for error in the second half was not very much. It was hard to come though (with the first half struggles). It was like a punch in the gut."
Gonzaga's defense did not allow Saint Mary's to score for a stretch of 6:18 in the first half. That allowed the Bulldogs to go on a 12-0 run to take a 31-13 lead with 2:26 left in the half. Gonzaga led 39-18 at halftime.
Williams-Goss led Gonzaga's charge with 13 points and four assists before the break. The Bulldogs' assist total of six in the half matched the field-goal total of Saint Mary's.
Gonzaga shot 51.9 percent (14 of 27) from the field before intermission. The Bulldogs finished at 50 percent.
Karnowski added eight points and six rebounds in the first half. He was a significant reason why Gonzaga outscored Saint Mary's 20-6 in the paint in the opening 20 minutes.
"In the first half, we were almost flawless with our offensive execution and our defensive pressure," Few said. "We talked at halftime that Saint Mary's is a team with a lot of heart and sure enough they made a valiant comeback."
Saint Mary's mounted a comeback with a 9-2 run that cut the lead to 46-37 with 12:58 left in regulation. Emmett Naar started the rally with layups on consecutive possessions.
Through the first 10 minutes of the second half, the Gaels shot 75 percent (12 of 16) with Naar scoring seven points while making all three shots. Saint Mary's trimmed the deficit to 51-46 following another 9-2 run.
Gonzaga answered with a 14-2 surge capped by a three-point play by Melson with 4:53 left, giving the Bulldogs a 65-48 lead.
Saint Mary's went through an 0-for-6 stretch from the field during that run, which happened after Landale committed his fourth foul and went to the bench with 9:47 left.
Hermanson's 3-pointer with 4:23 remaining ended the Gaels' drought and cut the lead to 65-51.
"I don't know if the game was lost in the first half, but digging a hole that early was tough to come out of," Hermanson said. "We gave it our best shot but we couldn't get the job done."
-- The last nine WCC Tournament titles have been won by either Gonzaga or Saint Mary's. Gonzaga has seven of the nine titles.
-- Before Tuesday's game, Saint Mary's was holding opponents to 55.9 points per game. The team is first in the WCC and second in the nation in opponents' points per game. The Gaels held six WCC teams to their fewest point totals of the season.
-- Saint Mary's PG Emmett Naar topped the WCC with an average of 5.8 assists per game (20th in NCAA), while teammate G Joe Rahon was second at 5.7 (21st in NCAA) before Tuesday. Rahon had five assists in the WCC final, and Naar added three.
-- Since March 6, 2010, Gonzaga is 107-30 in road or neutral games. The Zags' 78.1 winning percentage on the road or neutral games tops the nation over that span.