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Provo • Immediately after BYU surprised Gonzaga 69-68 at McCarthey Athletic Center on Jan. 14, Zags guard Josh Perkins told the Spokesman-Review that it was too early to hit the panic button.
"We're still going to win the league, I'm positive of that," the redshirt freshman guard told writer Jim Meehan.
Well, Saint Mary's had something to say about that last Saturday, quieting Perkins and The Kennel 63-58 to complete its first regular-season sweep of Gonzaga since 1995.
"Honestly, coach [Randy Bennett] did a great job of prepping us coming in," SMC guard Calvin Hermanson told insidebayaream.com. "We know this is probably the hardest place to play in the league, and we just try to block it out."
Saint Mary's (13-3, 22-4) and Gonzaga (13-3, 21-7) are now tied for the league lead with two games remaining, but the Gaels will get the No. 1 seed in the West Coast Conference tournament March 3-8 if they finish in a tie because of the sweep. BYU (12-4, 21-8) is still eligible to win the title, or a piece of it, but needs help.
The Cougars and Gaels split their games, each winning by 11 points on its home floor.
It is shaping up to be one of the more exciting WCC finishes since BYU joined the league in 2011-12; Usually, the Zags have the thing wrapped up by now.
But Gonzaga, BYU and Pepperdine (10-7, 17-11) have had mildly disappointing seasons, while SMC is overachieving considering the Gaels have five new starters and no seniors on their roster.
Saint Mary's hosts Santa Clara on Thursday, then travels to streaky San Francisco on Saturday in what should be the more difficult test of the two. Gonzaga and BYU meet Saturday as well, after the Zags travel to San Diego on Thursday and the Cougars play host to Portland.
It is looking more and more like the WCC in a one-bid league this year for the NCAA Tournament, although ESPN's Joe Lunardi had Gonzaga and Saint Mary's still in the tournament as 11 seeds in his bracketology projections on Monday. Lunardi has Gonzaga in a play-in game in Dayton.
Gonzaga is out in Jerry Palm's Bracketology for CBSsports.com, and SMC is a 12 seed; In NBCsports.com's projections, Gonzaga is out and SMC is a 10 seed.
Saint Mary's got votes in both major polls on Monday.
BYU's wild ride
If the WCC tournament started today, BYU would be seeded third and would meet No. 6 Santa Clara on Saturday, March 5, at 2 p.m. MST. A lot could change between now and then, obviously, with the Cougars still possible for the first or second seed and the Broncos trying to hold off Portland for the sixth seed.
Despite all the hand-wringing in Provo after losses to Portland and Pacific this season, the Cougars can finish 23-8 in the regular season for the second-straight year if they beat Portland and Gonzaga this week. BYU is 43 in the Sagarin Ratings, 59 in the Pomeroy Ratings and has an RPI of 68.
The Cougars drew 16,324 fans for their 91-33 win over last-place San Diego on Saturday, the second-largest crowd to watch a WCC game this season. The largest crowd was 18,987 for Pepperdine-at-BYU on Jan. 30. ... BYU's average attendance of 15,060 leads the West and is No. 12 nationally. ... Junior forward Kyle Davis, who has a 3.59 GPA in accounting, was BYU's only selection to the WCC Men's Basketball All-Academic Team.
Kurt Kraghtorpe • With BYU competing for a regular-season WCC title, senior guard Kyle Collinsworth tries to emulate the work habits of Cougar greats Jimmer Fredette and Tyler Haws. > http://www.sltrib.com
W L Pct W L Pct
St. Mary's 13 3 .813 22 4 .846
Gonzaga 13 3 .813 21 7 .750
BYU 12 4 .750 21 8 .724
Pepperdine 10 7 .588 17 11 .607
San Francisco 8 8 .500 15 12 .556
Portland 6 10 .375 12 17 .414
Santa Clara 6 10 .375 10 18 .357
Pacific 5 11 .313 7 19 .269
Loyola Mnt 5 12 .294 12 16 .429
San Diego 3 13 .188 8 19 .296
Thursday's games San Francisco at Pacific, 8 p.m.
Gonzaga at San Diego, 8 p.m.
Portland at BYU, 9 p.m.
Santa Clara at Saint Mary's, 9 p.m.