After the surprising loss to USF a couple of weeks ago, Gonzaga no longer had that comfortable cushion over the rest of the WCC. All of a sudden, the game between the Zags and St. Mary's on February 11th essentially boiled down to a conference championship game. If Gonzaga wins, they will have a one-game lead in the standing, but essentially a two-game lead due to the fact they would hold the tie-breaker over the Gaels.
While that may seem like a nice amount of incentive for the Zags, I'm not sure it can compare to what is on the line for St. Mary's. If St. Mary's wins this game, they control their destiny in the WCC and could be the team to finally end Gonzaga's dominance in this conference. But as we have also discussed on this site, a win for St. Mary's could be enough for the Gaels to claim a potential At-large berth in the NCAA Tournament this March. Certainly there is a chance that they could earn a berth if they win out, but a win over Gonzaga would likely be the signature victory that is currently lacking on their resume.
With that said, I truly believe that this Gonzaga team has a mindset of greatness and improvement that some teams in the past have lacked. This is a group that wants to improve everyday heading into March, and the back-to-back wins over Portland and Memphis prove that this group has rebounded and improved from the loss to the Dons.
One of the most important factors I took out of the win over Memphis was the play of Rob Sacre. While it was just one game (who am I kidding? he only played one good half) it was beautiful seeing Sacre playing with the confidence and ability that we all know he is capable of. Sacre will face his biggest test of the season when he tries to slow down Omar Samhan. In the first meeting this season, Samhan completely dominated Sacre, out-scoring him 31-8 and out-rebounding him 12-6. As I have maintained for the past month, the play of Sacre is the difference between this team being good, and this team being great. If Rob can keep his game elevated and continue to be a force in the paint, then I think Gonzaga pulls out a comfortable win.
So how do I see the biggest game of the WCC season playing out? I am torn between the Zags showing up like they did against Portland and just blowing the Gaels out of the gym, or a tight game where the Gaels hang around to the final seconds. I would guess that most of our readers are pretty confident in how the Zags will play, but I worry a little that the emotion and passion of St. Mary's will keep this a close game. Behind a steady performance by Rob Sacre (I'm going to keep predicting this, because I feel like it motivates him), the Zags will hold on for the 77-72 win.