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Updated: Sunday, February 15, 2004 1:55 AM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL RECAP
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(7) Gonzaga 79, St Marys Ca 60

MORAGA, California (Ticker) -- After nearly letting a big lead slip away, Gonzaga showed why it is the best team in the West Coast Conference.

Freshman Adam Morrison scored a season-high 22 points as the seventh-ranked Bulldogs secured their latest regular-season conference crown with a 79-60 victory over Saint Mary's.

The Bulldogs (21-2, 11-0 WCC) matched a school record with their 14th straight win while capturing their sixth league title in seven seasons. They earned a "double bye" into the semifninals of the WCC tournament.

"We're happy with the way we've been playing," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "Everybody expects you to win these games. I don't think people understand how tough it is to come into a place like this, and play a good team, in a hostile team and win convincingly."

But the Bulldogs' latest victory did not come without some anxious moments as they saw a 40-25 halftime lead whittled to four points with less than nine minutes remaining.

Showing its mettle, Gonzaga responded with a 16-0 run, holding the Gaels scoreless for more than six minutes to put away the game.

Morrison, a 6-8 forward, started the surge with a hook shot with 8:40 remaining. He also hit a jumper and layup in the decisive burst.

Daniel Kickert and Paul Marigney each scored 12 points for the Gaels (15-10, 6-4), who faded down the stretch in both of their losses to the Bulldogs this season.

Point guard Blake Stepp added 16 points for the Bulldogs, who extended their winning streak against Saint Mary's to 16 games. Stepp made four of Gonzaga's six 3-pointers.

Marigney, who scored 20 points in a 75-61 loss at Gonzaga in January, never was able to find his shooting touch against the Bulldogs' 2-3 zone defense as he went 3-of-14 from the field.

Bulldogs sophomore forward Erroll Knight was ejected with 13:52 remaining after picking up his second technical foul. His departure seemed to spark the Gaels, who used a 12-4 run to pull within 55-52 with 10:15 to play.

It was 59-55 with 8:56 to go following a driving layup by Marigney. But the Gaels got no closer.

"They did a great job which bothered us defensively," St. Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "I thought we became frustrated in the game and the frustration led to poor shots, bad shots, and missed shots."

Morrison's hook shot 16 seconds later started the burst, Stepp made two free throws and Tony Skinner buried a 3-pointer, rebuilding the lead to double digits with 6:44 remaining.

Sean Mallon added 12 points, Ronny Turiaf 11 and Corey Violette 10 for the Bulldogs, who shot 53 percent (29-of-55) and held the Gaels shot to 33 percent (20-of-61).


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