Saint Mary’s Gaels (18-2, 7-0 WCC) 74, No. 13 Gonzaga Bulldogs (16-4, 6-1) 71
An exciting back-and-forth game with a result that brings the West Coast Conference closer to getting two teams into the NCAA Tournament is exactly the kind of game we need more of.
“It was a heck of a game,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Two heavyweights going back and forth.”
Gonzaga’s spring semester got underway this week, which meant the raucous Kennel Club was back in session. And boy did they have reason to get loud in this one.
There were 22 lead changes, 19 of which came in a first half that saw almost no defensive stops. Saint Mary’s star Jock Landale (26 points) did his thing, while Gonzaga’s flashy sophomore Rui Hachimura (23 points) had a breakout game.
The Zags built a bit of a cushion in the second half, but never got their lead into double-figures. That weak, home-game-heavy schedule Saint Mary’s has played didn’t seem to matter.
These guys can flat out score
Coming into the game, Saint Mary’s ranked as the second-most-efficient offense in the country, behind only Duke. You’re forgiven if you weren’t aware of that, because the Gaels don’t get quite as many ESPN games as the Blue Devils.
“I think the two offenses really showed themselves,” Few said.
While he was talking about both teams, and both teams did play some electric offensive basketball, Saint Mary’s showed better. And on the biggest stage of the season.
The Gaels finished 30-53 from the field (56.6 percent) on the road against a defense that ranks 18th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings. Dang.
Gonzaga shot it well too, especially early, but an 11-39 showing in the second half dragged its percentage down to 47.5.
Jock Landale is really, really good
He’s led the WCC Player of the Year race since the moment last season ended. Tonight, seven games into conference play, he might have won it.
With 26 points and 12 rebounds, both game highs, Landale recorded his 13th double-double of the season. He connected on 12 of 15 shots from the field and showed off some absolutely devastating post moves in the process.
He even made his presence felt far from the paint deep on the Zags’ bench.
Gonzaga’s first sub of the game was redshirt freshman center Jacob Larsen, who is usually the team’s eighth man. Few had to change his rotation simply because of Landale. And it didn’t work. Larsen played just four minutes and Landale’s team won.
Rui’s got big-time game
The Zags’ sixth man has all-conference talent and a style of play tailor-made for the biggest stage. A career-high 23 points for the sophomore from Japan kept the Zags in it against their arch-rivals. He got it done around the basket with electrifying dunks and athletic blocks, including one on Landale to keep things tied late, and around the perimeter where he showed his great shooter’s touch.
He’s posted the best offensive rating in conference play (148.6) but until Thursday, he did so against inferior opposition. This came against Saint Mary’s on ESPN. And speaking of the mothership, Rui’s previous career high of 20 points was set against Texas in Gonzaga’s first ESPN game of the season.
Hachimura is averaging 15.7 points in three games televised on ESPN this season.