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#17 Saint Mary’s ekes past Santa Clara in WCC semis

Tommy Kuhse scored a season-best 27 points and Logan Johnson made a key block in the final seconds as #17 Saint Mary’s held on for a wire-to-wire, 75-72 victory over Santa Clara in the West Coast Conference tournament semifinals on Monday in Las Vegas.

The second-seeded Gaels (25-6) will face top-seeded and #1-ranked Gonzaga (25-3) in the Tuesday tournament championship game for the WCC’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. The teams split two regular-season meetings.

Santa Clara’s Jalen Williams attempted a short jumper in the lane with his team down 73-72 and less than six seconds remaining, but Johnson blocked the shot. Johnson was fouled with 3.6 seconds left and made both free throws to make it a three-point margin.

Williams’ last-ditch halfcourt shot caromed off the front of the rim as time expired.

Matthias Tass added 18 points and seven rebounds for Saint Mary’s, which is all but assured of being part of the 68-team NCAA field no matter what happens on Tuesday. Johnson had 14 points and seven rebounds.

Josip Vrankic registered 21 points and eight rebounds and Keshawn Justice also had 21 points while sinking four 3-pointers for third-seeded Santa Clara (21-11).

Williams had 15 points and six assists and Jaden Bediako contributed 12 rebounds and five blocked shots for the Broncos, who had won three in a row.

Santa Clara figures to receive an invitation to play in either the NIT or College Basketball Invitational.

The Broncos trailed by 15 early in the second half but moved within 69-65 on Justice’s 3-pointer with 3:38 left.

Justice connected on another trey to pull Santa Clara within 73-72 with 42.8 seconds remaining.

Saint Mary’s shot 49.1 percent from the field, including 6 of 13 from 3-point range.

The Broncos made 40.6 percent of their shots and were 5 of 13 from behind the arc.

Kuhse was hot at the outset of the second half as he scored eight points during a 10-0 burst that increased the Gaels’ lead to 49-34 with 17:18 remaining. He culminated the run with two 3-pointers in a span of 39 seconds.

Kuhse drained his third 3-pointer of the game to make it 65-51 with 9:20 left.

Santa Clara answered with a 11-2 burst — Vrankic scored seven of the points — to pull within 67-62 with 5:16 to play.

Kuhse and Tass each scored 10 first-half points and the Gaels led 39-34 at the break.

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