The WCC schedule didn't do a whole lot of things right, but placing Gonzaga at Saint Mary's to close out the season is one of the smarter plays they've had. In previous years, Saint Mary's has been a solid bubble team always in need of another resume boosting win. This season, it isn't quite the same story for Saint Mary's. The Gaels have struggled to an 11-6 record in conference and barring a charge through the WCC Tournament will be on the outside looking in.
Still, it is a game in Moraga, so it is good that Gonzaga went and exorcised its losing demons against Pacific. Pangos broke out of his road, and sort of home, slump with 18 points. Drew Barham added 17 points as the Bulldogs overcame foul trouble from the frontcourt and put forth the kind of win that makes a coach happy when he/she goes to bed.
They'll need that sort of effort again. Saint Mary's has nothing to lose. The students in Moraga hate Gonzaga as much as the students in Spokane hate Saint Mary's. It is senior night for Stephen Holt, James Walker, Beaeu Levesque, Matt Hodgson and Paul McCoy. There will be energy in the building, and Gonzaga needs to make sure it doesn't get swept away.
Tip-off is 7 p.m. and the game is broadcast nationally on ESPN2.
Meet the opponent
Saint Mary's Gaels (21-9), KenPom #64, RPI #59
All along I've been talking about how BYU is the mystery team of the WCC this season, but really, that distinction should belong to Saint Mary's. Everyone expected them to take a step back when losing Matthew Dellavedova, but they returned a majority of the offense and it seemed like everything would be OK in Moraga. Holt transitioned into the point guard spot perfectly fine and has been one of the better offensive players in the WCC this season. Bau Levesque to a slight step back, but not too big of one. Brad Waldow evolved into this fanged monster.
So what went wrong? Although Holt stepped into Dellavedova's shoes, no one really stepped into Holt's shoes. This has left the offense just a few steps behind, and Randy Bennett never figured out how to get it going again. The Gaels are ninth in the conference in field goal attempts and ninth in the conference in assists. Dellavedova, as much as it pains to say it, kept that offense running as fluidly as possible.
To make up for the offensive struggles, Saint Mary's has been aggressive on the defensive end. Between Waldow and Levesque, the Gaels eliminated the offensive rebound from opponents. Opposing teams in conference has collected 153 offensive rebounds against them, the lowest mark in the WCC. On the offensive end, Waldow, that maniac, is super aggressive on the offensive glass -- 42 percent of his rebounds are offensive rebounds.
What to watch out for
With the losing streak out of the way, Gonzaga needs to keep the momentum from the Pacific game flowing. This is senior night for Saint Mary's, and every soul in that building would love nothing more then to watch the Bulldogs take another late season stumble. This will be as hostile of an environment as Gonzaga has played in a long while, and how the team responds to that intensity will be something to watch. Expect Mark Few to keep a tight lid on this game, and that most likely means a limited rotation.
The Gaels don't have a lot of size up front and in the first meeting this year Hodgson lasted 17 minutes before Przemek Karnowski swallowed him whole. Karnowski had one of his best games of the season against Saint Mary's, finishing with 15 points, nine rebounds and seven blocks. He also did this while pretty much missing Sam Dower at his side because of injury. Most importantly, Karnowski destroyed Waldow, holding him to five points on 1-of-8 shooting. Without Waldow, Saint Mary's is a much different team.
Saint Mary's will be looking for revenge. The Gaels are a better team than the 73-51 score suggested earlier in the year. Gonzaga can't expect Saint Mary's to shoot 32 percent from the floor, nor can they expect another 1-for-12 three point display. If Gonzaga keeps its focus, forces the Gaels to take tough shots, the Bulldogs will have a good chance of winning. Saint Mary's struggles to find the open man at times, and that ends up with a lot of shots that make a coach wince. Nothing is more satisfying than watching Randy Bennett look upset, so let's end our season the right way, and Saint Mary's the right way as well.