When this season started in late October, nearly every fan in the WCC could have predicted a Gonzaga vs. St. Mary's game in the WCC championship. However, I'm not sure any fan could have anticipated the path that these two teams would have taken here. Despite currently being ranked 12th in the country, this season has certainly been a roller coaster ride for the Zags. A frustrating run in late December and early January, which saw Gonzaga lose to Arizona, Portland St., and Utah had GU fans wondering whether this team was worthy of all the preseason hype. I'll openly admit that I had some concerns about this team, but it seems over the past 2-3 weeks, the coaching has pushed all the right buttons and has this team peaking. For the Gaels, everything seemed to be going perfectly until the night of January 29th. It seemed that the Gaels finally had the talent to conquer the mighty Gonzaga empire, but all those plans began to crumble when Patty Mills fractured a bone in his hand. An 18-1 start was ruined, and it took the Gaels quite a long time to regain their swagger. What makes the match up tonight so special is that both teams will be playing at the highest level possible during the most important month of the season.
This is night that many St. Mary's fans have been dreaming of since the injury to Patty Mills. The Gaels have played well enough to survive without their star player, but for this team to reach its ultimate potential, it must have a healthy and confident Mills.
As we all know, this is a tremendous team when it's firing on all cylinders. Leading the way for the Gaels is the fantastic Patty Mills. Many Gonzaga fans have a strong memory of Patty Mills lighting up the Zags for 18 points in the first 20 minutes in Spokane. While this performance was surely a slight aberration, its clear that Mills is obviously one of the most talented and explosive athletes this conference has seen in the past 10 years. Mills leads the Gaels with 18.4 points per game, but his presence on the court is worth much more than that.
I have to believe that Diamon Simpson and Omar Samhan are the two happiest people on the face of the earth. These two have seen their play dip with Mills out of the lineup, but both are outstanding compliments when Mills is healthy. Each ot the two towers averages 13.6 points per game, while Simpson averages an impressive 10.8 rebounds per game. While we were all impressed by the tremendous offensive display from Austin Daye yesterday, it's vital that he plays one of the top defensive games of his career tonight. Daye has struggled with the physicality of Simpson in both meetings this year, but he seems to be playing with great confidence.
There is no doubt that if Gonzaga plays at the level it did last night, the Zags will emerge with a victory. However, the main issue with this team has been the lack of consistency. All Gonzaga fans are hoping that this team has started to hit its peak at just the right time, and the game tonight should prove whether last night was an aberration or a preview of things to come. The optimistic side of me believes that the Zzags are finally peaking at the right time of the season, and tonight we will see a dominant Gonzaga performance. Behind a rejuvenated and terrific Jeremy Pargo, the Zags will emerge with a 79-68 victory.