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WCC MEN'S TOURNAMENT

San Diego's Win Is a Keepsake

March 10, 2003|Rob Fernas | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — It didn't take long for Jason Keep, San Diego's mountain of a center, to make an impression on San Francisco and everyone else Sunday night at Jenny Craig Pavilion.

Picture a tattooed Gulliver in high-tops.

The 6-foot-10, 280-pound Keep bulled inside for baskets, muscled his way for rebounds and, for good measure, tossed in his first three-point basket of the season to help stake the Toreros to a 17-point halftime lead.

Keep's early dominance set the tone and his play in the final minutes snuffed out a San Francisco comeback, sending San Diego to a 72-63 victory in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference men's basketball tournament.

The second-seeded Toreros (17-11) will play in their first final since 1994 tonight at 9 against top-seeded Gonzaga.

Keep, who finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds, credited Coach Brad Holland for helping him get off to a good start. Keep had 13 points and nine rebounds in the first half as San Diego took a 41-24 halftime lead.

"Coach has been on my case about coming out strong," he said.

The Toreros also needed Keep to finish strong.

Third-seeded San Francisco (15-14) closed to within 59-55 with 3:46 to play after consecutive three-point baskets by Darrell Tucker and Shamell Stallworth.

San Diego point guard Matt Delzell answered with a three-pointer, setting the stage for Keep to take over. The senior transfer scored off an alley-oop pass, blocked a shot and pulled down several rebounds during a 10-0 run that rebuilt the Toreros' lead to 69-55 with 1:26 left.

"What I was most proud of was that we didn't fold in the second half and we answered the run," said Holland, who has San Diego in the WCC tournament final for the first time in nine seasons as coach.

Delzell made all five of his three-point shots, three at critical junctures in the second half, and finished with a game-high 20 points. His hot shooting compensated for seven turnovers.

"I had my worst floor game of the year," Delzell said. "I just had to make up for it somehow."

Forward Jason Blair was San Diego's other key contributor, complementing Keep in the post with 16 points and 11 rebounds.

San Francisco struggled to match up inside. Center Alvin Broussard and forward James Bayless fouled out, and Tucker, the Dons' best player, spent much of the game on the bench in foul trouble.

Gonzaga 73, St. Mary's 52 -- Junior guard Blake Stepp, the WCC player of the year, scored 28 points to help the Bulldogs (23-7) reach their sixth consecutive tournament final. Gonzaga is attempting to win its fifth consecutive title.

Forward Cory Violette, Gonzaga's leading rebounder and third-leading scorer, turned his left ankle with 9:17 to play and spent the rest of the game on the bench wearing an ice pack. A trainer for the team called it a "mild sprain" but Violette is questionable for tonight.

Freshman forward Daniel Kickert had 19 points for fifth-seeded St. Mary's (15-14).

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