Guard play guides No. 1 Zags to a WCC tournament title

College basketball nation knows all about Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren, the big men who have led the Gonzaga Bulldogs to a No. 1 national ranking.

Timme led the Zags to the NCAA title game last year, and Holmgren is the heralded 7-foot freshman who could be among the top two or three picks in this year’s NBA draft.

The nation knows less about Julian Strawther, Rasir Bolton and Andrew Nembhard.

Those three guards showed off in style Tuesday night, leading the Zags to an 82-69 victory over the No. 17 Saint Mary’s Gaels, in Las Vegas, for the West Coast Conference tournament title.

With the win, Gonzaga secured the WCC’s automatic bid and all but locked up a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament. Saint Mary’s likely will make the 68-team field as an at-large team, as well.

The Gaels, playing at home in Moraga, Calif., on Feb. 27, beat the Zags by 10 points and looked good in doing it. On Tuesday night in the WCC finals, Strawther, Bolton and Nembhard exacted revenge.

Running the offense and shooting with authority, Nembhard had 19 points and passed for seven assists. Bolton had 18 points and Strawther 16. Combined, the three hit eight of 13 three-point shots.

Quite a show by a backcourt that will need to play at this level in March if the Zags hope to make it back to the Final Four.

NCAA automatic bids

From Tuesday’s title games
Gonzaga — West Coast Conference
x-Jacksonville State — Atlantic Sun
Bryant — Northeast Conference
Delaware — Colonial Athletic Association
Wright State — Horizon League
South Dakota State — Summit League

Through Monday’s games
Chattanooga — Southern Conference
Georgia State — Sun Belt
Longwood — Big South
Loyola-Chicago — Missouri Valley
Murray State — Ohio Valley

x-The Bellarmine Knights beat Jacksonville 77-72 for the Atlantic Sun title Tuesday night but will not get the conference’s automatic bid. Bellarmine, located in Louisville, Ky., is in the second of a four-year transitional period from Division II to Division I that prohibits the Knights from competing in the “Big Dance,” per NCAA rules. As the regular-season champion, Jacksonville State (Ala.) was awarded with A-Sun’s automatic bid.