27-3, 14-0 Conf

Despite poor shooting, Zags win WCC championship

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) -- Gonzaga was rarely challenged during the West Coast Conference season. The league tournament was a different story.

After beating San Diego in overtime Sunday, No. 4 Gonzaga needed a late surge, a vocal home crowd and a missed layup at the buzzer to beat Loyola Marymount 68-67 on Monday night in the WCC tournament final.

J.P. Batista's tip-in provided the winning points, and Loyola Marymount's Chris Ayer missed at the end to preserve Gonzaga's 18th overall win in a row and 40th consecutive home win, both the longest streaks in the nation.

"We needed every ounce of McCarthey magic to dig that one out," coach Mark Few said, after the Zags (27-3) won their 28th straight game in the 2-year-old McCarthey Athletic Center.

Loyola Marymount (12-18) built a 15-point lead in the second half, the most Gonzaga has ever trailed in the building, but the Zags used a 20-7 run to tie the score at 53 with 7:02 left, mostly on the efforts of reserves Erroll Knight, Jeremy Pargo and David Pendergraft.

"Loyola was beating us in every facet of the game," Few said. Putting in the reserves "changed the complexion of the game."

The teams battled to the end, with Batista tipping in a miss by Adam Morrison with a minute left for the final points.

Both teams missed their next shots. The Lions inbounded the ball with 10.6 seconds left and the Gonzaga defense bottled up Brandon Worthy in the corner. He found Ayer underneath, but the senior rushed the shot and missed badly.

"We had the ball in the hands of the guys we wanted to execute it," Loyola coach Rodney Tention said. "The shot just wasn't for us to go in tonight."

"He's pretty devastated," Loyola's Matthew Knight said of Ayer. "We let him know it's not his fault."

Worthy led the Lions with 15 points, while Ayer scored 12 and Knight 11.

"This is the most devastating feeling that I have ever felt," Worthy said. "It's just an emptiness inside of you, a void that can't be healed."

"We came so close."

The Zags shot poorly in a game that saw the score tied eight times and the lead change nine times. They made only 25 percent in the first half, when they trailed 34-26 and did not make a field goal in the final eight minutes.

The slump continued early in the second half, although they made 51 percent of their shots in the final half and finished with 38 percent for the game.

Morrison, the nation's leading scorer, led all players with 23 points, five below his average. He made only six of 18 shots.

Batista spent much of Monday with trainers and had his knee and quad heavily taped because of injuries in Sunday's semifinal win over San Diego. He scored 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.

"I probably slept two hours last night," Batista said.

Gonzaga won the WCC tournament for the third straight time and seventh of the past eight. But it was the first time the event was held in Spokane.

Fans picked Morrison up and carried him after the game. Morrison said he felt safe up there.

"Whoever dropped me would get killed in Spokane," Morrison said.

Few noted that Morrison also enjoyed mosh pits, a similar environment.

Loyola Marymount was playing in the WCC title game for the first time in 17 years. They won in 1988 and 1989, behind Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble. It was in the semifinals of the league tournament in 1990 that Gathers collapsed on the court and died.

Gonzaga has won 18 games in a row, tied with George Washington for longest streak in the nation.

Loyola Marymount led by eight at halftime, and went on a 12-2 run to take a 48-33 lead with 13:36 left on Worthy's steal and layup and Wes Wardrop's jumper.

Gonzaga replied with a 16-2 run and Morrison's layup, his first basket of the second half, cut Loyola's lead to 50-49 with 7:37 left.

David Pendergraft's two free throws tied the game at 53.

John Haywood's long jumper, Loyola's first field goal in seven minutes, gave the Lions a 55-53 lead with 6:38 left.

Batista's basket tied the game at 59 and two free throws by Morrison gave Gonzaga a 61-59 lead, its first of the second half, with 4:05 left.

Pargo, a freshman, sank a layup and a 3-pointer for a 66-61 Gonzaga lead.

Loyola replied with six straight, with Wardrop's two free throws giving the Lions a 67-66 lead with 1:41 left.

Batista tipped in a Morrison miss for a 68-67 Gonzaga lead with a minute left.

Matthew Knight missed a shot for Loyola, and Batista missed underneath the basket. Loyola rebounded and called timeout with 10.6 seconds left to set up the final sequence.

Loyola Marymount came into the WCC tournament seeded No. 2 based on an 8-6 conference mark. They beat Saint Mary's 66-63 on Sunday. The Zags needed overtime to beat San Diego 96-92 in the semifinals Sunday night.