The West Coast Conference tournament is about three weeks away and you could tell in tonight's match up between Gonzaga and Saint Mary's. The home crowd at the McCarthey Athletic Center was as electric as I've heard it all season and the game did not disappoint, especially if you are a Gonzaga fan. The Zags were once again paced by their dynamic duo of Matt Bouldin and Elias Harris as they were able to overcome a painfully slow start to run the Gaels out of the gymnasium tonight in Spokane by a score of 80-61.
It's hard to describe the way the game began as anything but brutal. Gonzaga started off with a plethora of turnovers and fouls all over the court and, during that time, Saint Mary's was taking a 12-4 lead thanks to their duo of Omar Samhan and Matt Dellavedova. Samhan came out like a man possessed early on in this contest and really took it right at Robert Sacre. The senior big man who has become public enemy number one in Spokane scored 16 of his 21 points tonight in the first half and did it from all over the court. With that being said, Gonzaga continued to hang around and took the lead after back-to-back scores by Bol Kong midway through the half. The lead would swing back and forth after that and all the way through until halftime when Matt Bouldin hit a three to beat the buzzer and give the Zags a halfcourt advantage.
Gonzaga allowed Saint Mary's to hang around for about three minutes in the second half before turning it up and showing them who owns the WCC. Demetri Goodson started a 16-3 run with a lay in and Matt Bouldin's three pointer to extend the lead to nine points with 14 and change was the first "ballgame" moment. From that point on, Gonzaga throttled Saint Mary's by going inside to Robert Sacre, allowing Elias Harris to create, and smothering the Gaels on defense. The Zags now take a commanding WCC lead having swept Saint Mary's and have won twenty games for thirteen straight seasons.
keep reading after the jump for my impressions of tonight's game between SMC and GU...In a game of this magnitude, you must start at the top so I'll begin with Gonzaga's three-headed monster. One provided consistency, one provided highlight reel plays, and one dominated defensively. Matt Bouldin, who showed Omar Samhan what it means to be an MVP tonight, delivered another outstanding performance. Matt was 8-14 from the floor tonight with 18 points and he was in complete control all evening. He added five rebounds and four assists to his stat line and was just "Mr. Big Shot" throughout the game. As I mentioned, his three to extend the lead to nine after Will Foster's block of Samhan was huge. He hit a couple of floaters as well in the second half to put SMC away. It's hard for me to remember another game aside from Memphis where I've been more impressed with Matt.
As for the human highlight reel, that would be Elias Harris. In the first half, it was pretty clear that Randy Bennett was not going to let Elias beat him. He was doubled every time down the court and I was blown away by how hard he was having to work for his shot. Because of the double teams, he struggled early but his skill and athleticism was just way too much for SMC down the stretch. I had to grimace a little bit because he made three plays tonight that I just pray NBA scouts weren't watching. First, there was the drive into the lane with the half step and layin, then there was the deep three in the face of an opponent, and lastly a hugely powerful dunk. He came up big once again in Gonzaga's biggest game and gave the Gaels fits.
Steven Gray's stat line is not worth admiring. His 2-10 night from the floor was forgettable but his defense was not. How many times did Bardo say "man, Steven Gray is getting away with a lot of physical play out there". I love it. He was smart about it and was really constantly swarming Dellavedova or whoever he was guarding on the perimeter. He really did battle on offense too but his shot was just not falling. He was still able to get a few boards and an assist but his value was completely on defense.
Is it possible that Robert Sacre and Demetri Goodson are growing into efficient players right before our eyes? Goodson was 4-5 from the floor, Sacre 6-11 as each looked great on offense and really cut down on those plays that drive Gonzaga fans wild. Goodson made some nice drives to the basket and I counted three times where he made nice passes off drives where the recipient just failed to convert. His one assist/one turnover will not look great but I thought Meech was tremendous. Goodson was also another reason that the only time you heard Mickey McConnell's name was when Bardo interviewed him for that 30 seconds clip. The Gaels point guard is one of the best outside shooters around and he never got on the board. Rob Sacre started out VERY slow. He committed fouls, played sloppy defense, and went back to his "chucking" style of shooting. I wasn't sure if he'd ever get it together against Omar but he really excelled from the midway point of the first half and on. He was stellar on offense as he created some nice shots for himself and I thought he hit the glass well on both sides. He still gets caught watching the ball rather than boxing out but I thought he was great against Omar all night and especially in the second half.
There wasn't much from the bench tonight outside of Bol Kong, Kelly Olynyk, and Will Foster. Starting off with Kong, I think the collective Gonzaga fanbase let out a huge sigh of relief when he rattled home that three-pointer to tie the game early on at 16. Kong had been ice cold in recent games so it was great to see him bury a big shot like that. To follow it up with a lay-in off a backdoor cut was just icing on the cake for Bol. He made a few nice drives to the rack that he couldn't finish but I think we saw how deceptively quick he can be. Finishing at this level is tough and he'll learn how to deal with contact as time goes on. There isn't much more that you can say about the play of Will Foster except good for him. He also started off a bit slow against Omar with some fouls and sloppy D but he had a big rejection in the second half that led to a Bouldin three and once again just played a very solid game. His back-to-back made free throws were a highlight reel moment for him. Kelly Olynyk might get the "unsung hero of the game" award from me. In 16 minutes, Kelly went 2-2 from the floor and pulled down seven boards. His contributions will largely go unnoticed in this game but he made some big plays for Gonzaga and once again showed flashes of his great scoring versatility.
If this recap sounded overly positive, that's because it is. I'm very happy with the way this team responded after losing to USF and the good play just keeps on going. I said it in the game thread that Meech and Rob playing somewhat efficiently really elevates this team to a whole new level. What that level is remains to be seen but I sure am glad it is happening with March right around the bend.