(PHOTO AND STORY: GOZAGS.COM)
The last time Gonzaga failed to make the West Coast Conference title game, Nigel Williams-Goss was 2 years old.
The WCC Player of the Year helped the fourth-ranked Bulldogs continue what coach Mark Few calls ''an amazing run.''
Williams-Goss had 25 points and eight rebounds, and Gonzaga secured a spot in the WCC final for the 20th straight season with a 77-68 victory over pesky Santa Clara on Monday night.
''It's March and the teams we're playing are playing with a sense of desperation, that their season is going to end,'' Few said. ''This group and the ones before them have done an incredible job.''
Przemek Karnowski added 19 points and seven boards for the Bulldogs (31-1), who dominated inside in winning their second straight since falling to BYU.
Top-seeded Gonzaga will seek its fifth straight conference championship Tuesday night against No. 19 Saint Mary's (28-3). The game tips off at 6pm PST on ESPN. The Gaels defeated BYU in the other WCC semifinal game 81-50.
The last time the Zags failed to reach the WCC final was 1997.
''I take it personally because there are a ton of people in Spokane who come down for this,'' Few said. ''They literally circle the dates on the calendar in July or whenever they announce it. They spend a good portion of their hard-earned money to come down here for a whole week.
''Our guys have done an amazing job making their trips worthwhile.''
Jared Brownridge scored 32 points for fourth-seeded Santa Clara (17-16), which has dropped 15 in a row to Gonzaga.
The Broncos, who lost to Gonzaga by 31 and 35 points during the regular season, played their second straight game without second-leading scorer K.J. Feagin, who was sidelined by a concussion. Then two of their starters, Emmanuel Ndumanya and Nate Kratch, each had four fouls before the second half was 5 minutes old.
But they stayed in the game behind the dynamic Brownridge, who hit 12 of 25 shots. Santa Clara cut a 15-point deficit to 56-51 on Kratch's bucket with 8:59 left.
Gonzaga answered with Karnowski's half-hook and two free throws and a layup from Williams-Goss during an 8-2 run.
When the Broncos again rallied to 68-63, Williams-Goss drained his only 3-pointer with 1:43 left.
''We called a double ball screen and they kind of got confused on the coverage and I was wide open,'' Williams-Goss said. ''I have all the confidence in the world I can make that shot.''
Las Vegas native Zach Collins' 3 with 47 seconds left made it 74-65. The Zags shot 56 percent from the field and had 46 points in the paint.
''What Gonzaga has done is truly remarkable. They deserve a lot of credit,'' Santa Clara coach Herb Sendek said. ''It's not always easy being Goliath.''
The Zags became the nation's first 31-win team and can likely cement its status as a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament with a victory in the final Tuesday.
Gonzaga and St. Mary's are playing the WCC Tournament Championship game for the 9th time. The Bulldogs have won 6 times, the Gaels twice.
Earlier this season, Gonzaga defeated St. Mary's 79-56 in Spokane, and 74-64 in Moraga, CA.