For the first 15 minutes, No. 5 Gonzaga (17-0, 5-0) and No. 21 Saint Mary’s (15-2, 5-1) traded blows. But a Johnathan Williams (14 points) steal and fastbreak dunk with 3:47 to play in the first half blew the roof off of the Kennel. The Gaels never recovered.
Students were allowed to return to their dorms a day early so they could pack the house for this rivalry game. They packed it, they shook it, and they helped run arch-rival Saint Mary’s out of Spokane.
With the 79-56 victory, Gonzaga moves into sole possession of first place in the WCC, and remains the nation’s lone unbeaten team. Saint Mary’s will take a hit in the rankings, but the Gaels are still on track to challenge Gonzaga for the league title. The Feb. 11 date with the Zags in Moraga just became a whole lot more important, though.
So, what did we learn late Saturday night about these two probable NCAA Tournament teams?
Gonzaga can flat-out shoot
Saint Mary’s came into this game with the third-best scoring defense in America, holding opponents to 56.6 points per game. Gonzaga needed just 31 minutes to pass that mark, and it’s not because the Zags play at a blistering pace.
They just don’t miss.
In the first half, Gonzaga connected on two-thirds of its shots from the field and finished the game with a mark of 64.7 percent.
That shouldn’t be surprising, because Gonzaga came into this one with the eighth-best effective field goal percentage in the country (57.2%). That number is only going to rise.
Of the eight Bulldogs to see the floor before garbage time, only Przemek Karnowski shot below 50 percent from the field. When the worst shooting player in a game is the one playing closest to the basket, then you’ve got some darn good shooters.
It doesn’t matter who scores in Spokane
Nigel Williams-Goss was the game’s leading scorer with 19 points. The junior point guard has now led the team in scoring on six occasions and is the Zags’ leading scorer despite averaging just 15.2 points per game.
Gonzaga’s leading scorer one game has gone on to outscore himself in the next contest just three times this season. Thursday against LMU, Przemek Karnowski led the team with 17, but finished with just nine points against Saint Mary’s.
Three other Zags joined Williams-Goss in double-figures scoring Saturday: Jordan Mathews (16 points), Jonathan Williams (14 points) and Zach Collins (10 points). On the season, four Bulldogs are averaging double figure scoring. Williams-Goss, Karnowski (12.6 ppg), Mathews (11.1), and Collins (10.4). Three more average over 8.5 per contest.
You can’t stop all of them from scoring.
Gaels more than just Jock
Less than six minutes into the game, the Gaels’ leading scorer this season, Jock Landale (10 points), went to the bench with foul trouble. On the road against a top-five team, that should be enough to doom most squads. But this is an experienced Saint Mary’s team that returned over 84 percent of its minutes from last season.
That continuity and chemistry was on clear display moments later as the Gaels, without their star, had built a four-point lead with 8:34 to play. That lead came after forward Evan Fitzner (six points) hit a three, and reserve Dane Pineau (10 points) scored in the paint.
“I thought Dane competed,” Randy Bennett said after the game. “I thought Fitz played well.”
Saint Mary’s faced the same situation less than 10 minutes into the second half, when Landale picked up his fourth foul, hedging on Josh Perkins out beyond the three point line.
By the time Landale fouled out with 3:27 to play, the game was all but decided. The Gaels were clearly overmatched by Gonzaga, but they should be pleased with how they handled that first-half adversity.