Gonzaga vs. Saint Mary's 2014 game preview: Third time is always a charm

William Mancebo

Saint Mary's has hardly been Gonzaga's rival this year -- will the good times continue?

The Gonzaga Bulldogs absolutely steamrolled the Saint Mary's Gaels in two meetings already this year. Is the third time a charm for the Bulldogs as they meet the Gaels in the semifinals of the 2014 WCC Tournament?

Short answer -- Gonzaga will win. Blind faith is needed at all times right now and the Bulldogs are one win away from a spot in the WCC final against either San Francisco or BYU. If the final is a game between Gonzaga and BYU, a loss there will probably still punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament as an at large. A loss to Saint Mary's in the semifinals -- that is a bit more cloudy.

Gonzaga, of course, has owned Saint Mary's this year in a way the Bulldogs haven't in a few years. Against a non-student loaded crowd over winter break, the Bulldogs walloped Saint Mary's, 73-51. Gonzaga went to Moraga to close out the season and embarrassed Saint Mary's on its home floor, 75-47. The Bulldogs have had the Gaels number this season.

The problem is that I'm still not convinced that Saint Mary's is that bad. Trust me when I say that I loathe Saint Mary's basketball program, everything it stands for and everything it chooses to be. Such is the case of rivals. Saint Mary's was bad in both games against Gonzaga -- the Gaels were incredibly bad. But, the Gaels also posted their two of their three worst offensive ratings of the season in both games against Gonzaga.

Now, lets give credit where credit is due. Gonzaga was good in both games, clamped down the defense and pretty much made Saint Mary's into a junior varsity team. In early January, it was all Przemek Karnowski all the time. In the closer to the conference schedule, it was all Gonzaga all the time.

Still, in both games, Saint Mary's was so bad. It can't be emphasized how bad the Gaels were. In January, Saint Mary's shot 31 percent from the floor. In March, the Gaels shot 23 percent from the floor. The only game in which Saint Mary's played as poorly as it did against Gonzaga was a February loss to San Diego. Other than that, the Gaels lost semi-close games while playing halfway decently. Against Gonzaga, Saint Mary's got blown out while playing so poorly you can't tell if it is Gonzaga just doing that well or Saint Mary's just doing that bad.

Against Pepperdine, Saint Mary's was back to its old ways. The Gaels shot 50 percent from the floor and 42 percent from beyond the arc. Brad Waldow went 6-of-7 from the floor and attacked the rim relentlessly, taking 12 trips to the free throw line. The Gaels didn't turn the ball over very often and kept the extra pass going, getting 15 assists on 28 buckets.

The Bulldogs, for their part, need a better defensive showing than they put out in the quarterfinals against Santa Clara. Sam Dower was excellent and so was Karnowski. Even David Stockton got in the fun. But for all the offensive happiness, the Bulldogs were 2-of-11 from three point land and turned the ball over way too often. A much better effort is needed against Saint Mary's.

So the question is as follows: Do we see the Saint Mary's that played on Saturday night and everyone knows exists? Or do we see the Saint Mary's that ‘played' Gonzaga twice this season. The optimist in me craves the latter, but the realist in me knows the former. Saint Mary's has absolutely nothing to lose and Gonzaga has seeding in the NCAA Tournament (or perhaps a spot overall) to lose. Tie goes to the dog backed into the corner in that fight, so we'll need a little bit of extra urgency from the Bulldogs to see a game on Tuesday evening.

Game time: 6 p.m. PT

TV schedule: ESPN

Radio: Spokane - 1510 KGA AM, Seattle - 880 KIXI AM

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