For a while there, it seemed like the WCC would really be a three-team race. BYU was one of the highest scoring teams in the nation. Saint Mary's was rolling over opposition as if they never had Matthew Dellavedova in the first place, and Gonzaga, well, we were doing our Gonzaga thing.
We can get to BYU later some other game preview (they won't be in it), but Saint Mary's has to do a bit of re-establishing their dominance. They were rolling until the week after finals. Then Saint Mary's headed down to Hawaii and dropped three games. Granted, the three wins were by a combined 11 points, but still, it was a pretty bad showing.
Bad showing or not, Saint Mary's is always a dangerous team, and the Bulldogs are reeling right now. Gonzaga opened the conference play with two wins, but Sam Dower is hobbled with a bad back, Kevin Pangos has his dumb big toe and Gary Bell is out with a broken hand.
Meet the opponent
Saint Mary's Gaels (10-3), Kenpom #44, RPI #55
Everyone thought without Dellavedova that the Gaels would take a step back. If anything, they are operating on a whole other plane of efficiency without him. Saint Mary's is the fifth most efficient offense according to Kenpom. They sit behind Louisville, Duke, Oklahoma State and Syracuse. They are ahead of such teams like Kentucky, Oregon, Kansas and Gonzaga.
Brad Waldow, who is having a fantastic year by all measures, leads the Gaels down low. Through 12 games (against D-I opponents) he is averaging 16.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. He is also doing this while shooting 63 percent from the floor, which is slightly below his career average of 63.6 percent (yikes). Waldow gets the ball and Waldow generally scores. If not, he has learned how to kick the ball out successfully, and is averaging two assists per game. Most importantly, he hardly turns the ball over, avergaging less than one per game.
After that, it is a combination of senior guards Stephen Holt and James Walker running the show. Holt has filled Dellavedova's to the exact size. He is averaging 13.6 points and 5.3 assists per game. He is flanked by his fellow senior guard James Walker, who provides the outside threat for the Gaels. Winger Beau Levesque fills in the allotment of major players for the Gaels, averaging 11.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
What to watch out for
It is a game against Saint Mary's, and this time around, most of the students won't be there. That shouldn't be too adverse for the Zags, as the general notion around Spokane is that Moraga and all that spawn from it are the lowest of the low. That said, if there was a time for the Gaels to steal a win at Spokane, this is it. The Zags are hobbled and are playing their third game in five days. The Gaels are healthy and have only played one game this week.
Gonzaga will have to be effective on the perimeter defense (oh god) because Saint Mary's is one of the best shooting teams in the nation, ranked fifth in the nation from behind the arc. In their conference opening win against Pacific the Gaels hit 13-of-26 three-pointers. Saint Mary's is going to come out shooting because they are one of the few teams in the nation that can shoot the ball as well as Gonzaga can, and they are doing it with their full compliment of shooters.
The last two wins have been the clichéd "team effort" wins. There is nothing wrong with clichés when they are good ones. Against Santa Clara, David Stockton stepped up. Against San Francisco, Drew Barham stepped up. With the status of Sam Dower unknown (still hanging out in the day to day purgatory), someone else will need to rise and fire for the Bulldogs. Otherwise, Saint Mary's has the best chance they've had in years to come into Spokane and steal a win.