The Bulldogs (28-1, 16-0) won the outright West Coast Conference championship and rolled up a school-record 21st straight victory. Wiltjer teamed with Przemek Karnowski to make some big shots down the stretch and keep the Zags on track for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Karnowski finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. Former Kentridge High School star Gary Bell, Jr. chipped in 8 points and 3 assists for the Zags.
Brad Waldow had 19 points and 11 rebounds, and Aaron Bright scored 17 points to help Saint Mary’s get off to a strong start. But the Gaels (20-7, 12-4) collapsed down the stretch and missed a chance to give their NCAA tournament bid a major boost.
The Bulldogs, who had already secured a share of the league title, needed to win one of their final two games to win the conference crown outright. And they needed every ounce of energy to withstand an emotional night for Saint Mary’s.
Besides the Senior Day celebrations, the Gaels retired Patty Mills’ No. 13 jersey during a halftime ceremony. The Australian guard attended the game along with teammates Manu Ginobili, Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw of the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs.
Saint Mary’s gave its former star and his NBA buddies quite a show.
After trailing 51-41 with 11 minutes to play, the Bulldogs put together a big closing burst. Karnowski’s layup gave Gonzaga a 56-55 lead — its first lead of the game — with 3:51 to play, though it only lasted a few seconds.
Bright answering back with a 3-pointer for Saint Mary’s as the teams traded scores in a wild finish.
Wiltjer and Karnowski converted consecutive layups to give Gonzaga a 64-60 lead with 1:01 remaining. The Gaels struggled to find their shooting stroke in the closing minutes and watched the Zags celebrate another WCC title on their floor.
Gonzaga has won 13 outright WCC titles in coach Mark Few’s 16 seasons. The Bulldogs shared the 2011 title with Saint Mary’s and finished second in 2012 and in Few’s first season in 2000.
Early on, it seemed like that celebration would have to wait.
Waldow willed Saint Mary’s to a 14-4 lead in the opening five minutes, dominating the paint on both ends. That created space for the Gaels’ outside game, and they hit seven of their first 10 shots from 3-point range.
Aaron Bright capped that big burst from beyond the arc to put Saint Mary’s up 36-19 late in the first half.
Just when it seemed the Zags would wilt, they put together a strong finish before the break to slice Saint Mary’s lead to 40-29. And the Bulldogs began the second half on a 10-0 run to quiet the crowd and turn the game into a tight contest.