PORTLAND - Derek Raivio felt a certain responsibility, given all that Gonzaga has been through this season.
"This is my legacy," the senior guard said after Gonzaga won the West Coast Conference tournament Monday night to earn a spot in the NCAAs. "If we don't win this game, I don't think we're in the tournament. I was not going to let that happen on my watch.
Raivio scored a season-high 28 points in Gonzaga's 77-68 victory over Santa Clara in the WCC championship game.
The top-seeded Bulldogs (23-10) have been to the NCAA tournament the past eight years, but a turbulent season had thrown a ninth trip into some doubt.
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Gonzaga, which finished the regular season one game ahead of Santa Clara (21-10) in the WCC, has won eight of the last nine WCC tournaments, with the streak interrupted only by San Diego in 2003.
The Zags led by as many as 10 points in the second half, but it was David Pendergraft's 3-pointer with 4:36 left that made it 61-52 and all but put the game away.
The Broncos threatened with a minute left in the game when Joey Kaempf's 3-pointer narrowed it to 73-68.
Gonzaga answered with Micah Downs' dunk and a pair of free throws made by Raivio for the final margin.
Gonzaga had a bye until the semifinals at the University of Portland's Chiles Center. The Bulldogs advanced with an 88-70 victory over fifth-seeded San Diego.
Second-seeded Santa Clara beat St. Mary's 63-47 to advance to the final. The Broncos have not been to the NCAA tournament since 1996, Steve Nash's senior year.
Matt Bouldin added 14 points for the Zags and Downs had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
But after the game, the fans chanted "Raivio! Raivio! Raivio!"
"He did what every great senior that we've had at Gonzaga has done ... He played his best game he's ever played, in the biggest moment, when we needed him the most," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "That's what it's all about. That's what you want your seniors to do."
Raivio's father, Rick, was a standout at host Portland and his name hangs from a banner in the rafters of the university's Chiles Center as part of the school's Hall of Fame.
Raivio, named the co-player of the year in the WCC and the tournament MVP, got sick and threw up in the second half, but said he didn't have the flu and he didn't think it was something he ate.
Scott Dougherty led Santa Clara with 16 points.
With a difficult nonconference schedule, the Bulldogs dropped from the Top 25 this season for the first time in several years. Then came the Feb. 9 arrest of forward Josh Heytvelt, who was averaging 15 points and seven rebounds per game.
Heytvelt, charged with felony possession of a controlled substance, has been suspended indefinitely.
Shortly thereafter, Gonzaga lost to Santa Clara, ending the nation's longest Division I home winning streak at 50 games.
"Derek was talking about all the adversity we've been though, all the troubles and the attention we've received - especially not knowing if we were going to make it to the tournament if we didn't win this game," Pendergraft said. "I mean, we came through this like brothers, especially after what happened a month ago. This is awesome, an amazing feeling."
The Broncos lost their final two regular season games at Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine, snapping a six-game winning streak. Their biggest win came on Feb. 12 when they beat Gonzaga 84-73 in Spokane.
Broncos coach Dick Davey, the WCC coach of the year who is retiring after 15 seasons at Santa Clara, said he felt discouraged as the game wound down.
"Hey, I don't want this to be about me, I want it to be about the kids," he said. "But I love the game. What can I say?"
Davey said there wasn't "any chance" the Broncos would land an at-large bid to the NCAAs. But the NIT is a possibility, and the team will gather on Wednesday.
"Maybe it's our last game. I hope not, but if it is I have a lot of respect and appreciation for these kids."
Gonzaga fans traveled in droves from Spokane, some seven hours drive away, and far outnumbered the Broncos' fans. They were stunned when Santa Clara took a first-half lead on a flurry of 3-pointers.
Gonzaga rallied, going on a 10-1 run - including consecutive 3-pointers Bouldin - to tie it at 31.
Raivio's 3-pointer before the break put the Bulldogs ahead 40-35, and his fadeaway jumper made it 48-38.
"He's about competition and he shows up in big games," Santa Clara forward Sean Denison said.