LAS VEGAS — Gonzaga has sure been a different team since a two-game losing streak included a rough trip to Provo.
The Bulldogs lost at the Marriott Center then San Diego before rebounding to win the final two regular-season games — also both on the road — and taking another pair in the postseason to advance to Tuesday night's West Coast Conference championship game.
GU ousted Saint Mary's, 70-54, at Orleans Arena before BYU played San Francisco in the other semifinal.
It wasn't quite the beatdown of a couple of weeks ago, when the Bulldogs hovered near a 30-point win on the Gaels' senior night.
But that outcome was hardly a fluke. More like a trend.
GU improved to 12-2 against SMC in the WCC postseason. The teams had met in the finals the previous five years, but SMC didn't hold its end of the rivalry, finishing fourth this year to set up an earlier clash.
GU won the league by a whole two games against the Cougars and USF, and is finally looking more like itself. Again.
"I think we got back to probably being a more physical team, a rebounding team," GU coach Mark Few said when asked what's clicked again. "If you look at the numbers, we've established our inside game. I think we got a little bit away from finding Sam (Dower). That was important, as opposed to getting too caught up in the perimeter stuff."
GU shot 4-of-18 from 3-point range at BYU on Feb. 20 in one of its three conference defeats (15 wins).
Now, guard Kevin Pangos appears healthier from an ongoing foot ailment. Same with fellow guard Gary Bell Jr., who has faced a variety of physical setbacks.
"We're a better team when he's hunting shots," said Few, who watched Bell make 6-of-8 shots against the Gaels.
And the guards like those two and David Stockton (team-high 21 points against SMC) are finding Dower.
He missed 9-of-11 shots, but the 6-foot-9 senior made all 15 free throws against Santa Clara on Saturday and added a 6-for-6 in the opening half against Saint Mary's. Then he added a couple more in the final 20 minutes to stay perfect.
The streak is a WCC tournament record.
∫No celebration: After wins, USF likes to have a little dance party in the locker room.
But the Dons didn't feel like it after Saturday's quarterfinal win against San Diego.
USF coach Rex Walters said "they are really locked in. Our guys definitely aren't too high or too low."
The party started about the middle of the season.
USF reeled off 20 wins in the regular season for the first time since 1981-82.
Walters told the Daily Herald on Sunday that music was typically selected by a player of the game.
But no one wanted to choose the tunes after the USD game.
∫In case you were following: It looks like the NIT last year has developed some even better teams this season. Of the four teams BYU faced in 2013, three should make it to the NCAA Tournament.
Mercer ousted Florida Gulf Coast, 68-60, on the home floor of "Dunk City" to earn the Atlantic Sun Conference's automatic berth Sunday.
Also, Southern Miss and Baylor (which ended BYU's season in the semifinals in New York City on April 2) appear to be in good position for at-large bids by most bracket analysts.
The only one that may miss it is Washington. BYU opened the NIT with a home win March 19 against former Pleasant Grove star C.J. Wilcox. The Huskies will need to win this week's Pac-12 Conference tournament to get in.
∫Back home: Anson Winder hails from Las Vegas. He gave his team a glimpse of his younger life, way off the Strip. The Cougars practiced Monday afternoon at Bishop Gorman, where the junior guard played high school ball.
"Back to the roots with my team," Winder posted on his Twitter account, with a picture of several teammates on the shiny gym floor, including Eric Mika at the forefront.
Having two tournaments on the same floor has required all teams to seek other locales for shoot-arounds in the earlier rounds.
∫Tip-ins: Haws needed only nine points against USF to pass Russell Larson for fifth place all-time at BYU. The junior has scored in double digits 45 consecutive games. ...Danny Ainge seemed to take it in good spirits when an arena staffer asked to see his pass. The current Boston Celtics executive probably wouldn't need much ID in Provo, either. Also, John Stockton attended both nighttime games.