It turns out that “the worst Gonzaga team in years” is still pretty good in its own right. While there’s no doubt that the Zags don’t quite have the juice that they had last year or in 2021, the dominant performance in Tuesday night’s West Coast Conference Championship game proved that they’re still a force to be reckoned with going into the NCAA Tournament.
In a tournament that featured a bonkers double overtime game between Santa Clara and San Francisco, it still came down to the two teams that have been the class of the league for the last decade plus. Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s met in the rubber match of the best rivalry in college basketball outside of the power conferences, well at least Gonzaga did, not sure if Saint Mary’s showed up.
After neither team scored for the first couple minutes of the game, Nolan Hickman hit a triple, and the floodgates opened. From 3-0, it became 14-4, and 14-4 became 28-12, and 28-12 became 37-19 at halftime. In that dominant Zags first half, the iconic Drew Timme became the program’s all-time leading scorer, surpassing the late Frank Burgess, who graduated in 1961.
The bucket that made history ⭐️ pic.twitter.com/rcbsyNCssY— Gonzaga Basketball (@ZagMBB) March 8, 2023
The record-breaking bucket wasn’t the story of the game, although it was certainly a story within the game. The Saint Mary’s defense had no answers for Gonzaga, who hit shot after shot on beautiful basketball possessions. The Zags picked up 17 assists, and shot 58% from the field, with four players scoring in double figures, leading to a 77-51 thrashing of their bitter rivals.
This might be a top 5 possession of the season for Gonzaga pic.twitter.com/JsrmNzIRC7— Steven Karr (@SKarrG0) March 8, 2023
Anton Watson was not one of those four players, but if Gonzaga is going to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, he’s going to be a key reason why. The Spokane native had nine points, 10 boards, and five assists Tuesday night, and has been the engine behind the Bulldogs’ improvement in defending the interior during their now nine-game winning streak.
For long stretches this season, Gonzaga struggled to keep teams out of the paint, really illustrating the impact that Chet Holmgren had on the Zags team last year. Teams could get whatever they wanted against Gonzaga, but that has changed over the last month, especially over the last five games, where Zag opponents are shooting just 44.9% from inside the arc.
Watson has been the KenPom game MVP of five games this year, including both wins over Saint Mary’s, and Mark Few called him Gonzaga’s “unsung hero” last week.
Mark Few highlights the #Gonzaga seniors, touching on Drew Timme’s personality — “as big as anything” — Rasir Bolton’s work in the community/charity, Malachi Smith’s “great, positive, upbeat personality” and Anton Watson as #Gonzaga’s “unsung hero” this season. pic.twitter.com/WQCQxJiaKL— Theo Lawson (@TheoLawson_SR) March 2, 2023
As for Saint Mary’s, they’re still going to comfortably make the NCAA Tournament, but the trajectory of their season has changed, falling out of KenPom’s top ten for the first time since January following the beatdown. The Bracketmatrix projects that the Gaels receive a five seed on Selection Sunday.
Gonzaga is playing their best basketball right now, peaking at the right time on both ends of the court. The Bracketmatrix projects that the Zags will fall on the 3 line when it’s all said and done.