It is certainly fair to say that the Gonzaga program finds itself in a situation that it isn't accustomed to being in. Not since the season in which Josh Heytvelt and Theo Davis decided it would be smart to drive in Cheney with shrooms hanging out of their backpacks has it seemed so probable that the WCC crown was going to end up somewhere besides Spokane. While the end of that season saw Santa Clara completely collapse over the final two games to give Gonzaga a share of the championship. However, this season presents a much more formidable mountain to overcome, as St.Mary's currently owns a two-game lead over the Bulldogs, with a game in Moraga still looming on the schedule.
One of the great aspects of sports, especially when you are a fan of a team that is successful, is the fact that one or two key plays over the course of the game typically dictate which team will end up winning. For example, on the recent trip to the Bay Area, two reactions from Robert Sacre on rebounds played a key part in the team going 0-2. In the loss to Santa Clara, Sacre didn't show enough intensity on a key second half rebound and ended up being tied up by two Santa Clara defenders. In the loss to USF, Sacre grabbed a key rebound late in the second half, and in an attempt to ensure that he wasn't tied up, ended up committing a questionable intentional foul. While there were moments after both games that I was close to my final straw with this team, I remembered that during the non-conference season, the losses that the Zags were suffering were of the embarrassing nature. These last two losses were merely the case of a couple of key plays going the way of the opposing team.
With that said, the overall quality of play needs to improve dramatically if this team plans to come away with a victory against St. Mary's. I don't mean to be this Gonzaga snob (key note: I do in fact mean to be a snob, I just like pretending otherwise), but Gonzaga is the more talented team in this matchup and I'm not entirely sure that St.Mary's is that good. In one of the rare tests that St. Mary's has faced in its non-conference schedule, the Gaels were blown off the court by an average Vanderbilt team. I guess my point is that while we gawk at the record that St. Mary's has at this point in the season, I'm not sure that Gonzaga wouldn't have the exact same record if it faced that schedule. No matter how good the backcourt may be for the Gaels, and no matter how well a couple of their transfers have looked this season, there is no way a team replaces the face of the program and improves. This is true with any team in any sport.
While I will be first to admit that I have probably anointed too many games this season as "statement games", I am going to go ahead and throw that term out there again. I was in the MAC last season when Elias Harris put his athleticism on display and the team played some incredibly crisp and confident basketball. I truly believe that whether or not this Gonzaga team will succeed this season comes down to the confidence that the coaching staff was able to instill in the players over the past week. If the guys still believe that the WCC crown comes through Spokane, and the reality is that for the past decade it does, then I think we will be treated to a comfortable win. While at this point the Zags don't "control their destiny" in conference, I can assure that the championship will come down to the two games against St. Mary's. Although the team has not had much luck when I have picked them to deliver, I am going to go ahead and say that I expect to see Gonzaga cruise to the 88-70 win.