Every year you hear of people talking about how the Gonzaga and Saint Mary's game is one of the best rivalry games in all of sports. Once again, it is a late game that most likely only the west coast will see being broadcast on a channel of ESPN that you have to be a devoted sports fan to even pay for. Oh well. This is our small party and it is everyone elses' loss to miss out.
Gonzaga had an interesting week last week. A game against Pepperdine almost turned into a debacle at Pepperdine as the Zags tried their damnedest to lose the game at the free throw line. Things reset and order was restored against against LMU on Saturday. Gary Bell Jr. led the Bulldogs with 17 points, a nice return to form for the guard who had struggled in his previous three games.
Saint Mary's, like it somehow seems to every year, is coasting right alongside the Zags in the WCC standings. Brad Waldow matched Tyler Haws blow for blow as Saint Mary's defeated BYU on Saturday. The Gaels have rattled off nine-straight victories and are the second-hottest team in the WCC right now. It has been a while since the Gaels won in Spokane, but if there was a team that was clicking at the right moment, now would be the time.
Meet the opponent
Saint Mary's Gaels, 15-3, KenPom #60
Let me introduce you to public enemy number one, with his garbage fang-printed mouthguard.
Senior forward Brad Waldow is another in a long line of rage inducing characters on the Gaels, following in the footsteps of Matthew Dellevedova, Stephen Holt and, the original villian, Omar Samhan. Credit has to be given where credit is due, however. Waldow is having a year amongst years and can very easily be slotted into the conversation of best player in the WCC. He is averaging 20.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, one of only 18 in the country to average a double-double. He is also doing it in an incredibly efficient manner. Amongst players in the nation that use at least 28 percent of their team's possessions, Waldow is fourth in all of college basketball in offensive rating, according to Ken Pomeroy, at 119.8, just behind some schmuck named Jahlil Okafor.
Waldow has been able to rampage this season because he has a couple of guards feeding him the ball to satisfy that hungry mouthguard. Randy Bennett continued his Australian pipeline connection and brought freshman point guard Emmett Naar state side. Naar is a pass-first point guard averaging 6.4 points and 5.1 assists per game. He is no longer starting, because Bennett has Stanford-transfer Aaron Bright at his disposal as well. Bright has two games of double-digit assists and averages 4.0 dimes per game.
Round that out with senior guard Kerry Carter and his 12.9 points per game and you have a Gaels team that can score quite a bit, just like they always can. The Gaels offense is ranked No. 47 according to Pomeroy, but one of the key indicators of how well the team runs is how many assists they churn out. 65.8 percent of all of Saint Mary's field goals come off of assists, and that is good for No. 4 in the nation.
The four factors
All statistics come courtesy of Ken Pomeroy.
|eFG%||58.5 (3)||53.1 (39)|
|TO%||16.5 (30)||19.0 (142)|
|OR%||36.7 (30)||36.8 (28)|
|FTR||36.4 (201)||33.4 (266)|
What to watch out for
Will Brad Waldow finally step up?
I'm going for the jugular straight off the bat. Waldow averages 12.6 points per game over his career, but this also includes 15.1 points per game last season and 20.6 this season. In his freshman year, he had Gonzaga's number, scoring 40 points in three games as Saint Mary's went 2-1 against the Bulldogs that year. Since then, it hasn't been too good -- and that has coincided with the arrival of Przemek Karnowski. In his past five outings, Waldow and Saint Mary's haven't won and he has been limited to 8.2 points per game on 50 percent shooting (his career field goal percentage is 59.9 percent). Saint Mary's needs Waldow to win and he is going to have to work hard for whatever points he accumulates.
Who cares about the offense, this game is about the defense.
Saint Mary's can score with the best of 'em. Gonzaga can score better than most of 'em. But if the Zags forget about the defensive end of the ball, there is a good chance that the Gaels will stick around a lot longer than they are welcome in Spokane. There aren't too many tests in the WCC for offensively proficient teams. Saint Mary's is a squad that is balanced in its attack and will be a good prep for March. Saint Mary's will always make that extra pass and that is how they burn opponents. If Gonzaga keeps its head down on defense and clogs those passing lanes as much as possible, they should be fine.
Welcome back Gary Bell.
It was nice seeing shots from Bell going in. The poor guy has been hard on his luck. He has gone from one of the more consistent Gonzaga players in the rotation to someone whose shot just refuses to fall. Bell is shooting a career-worst 40.5 percent from the floor. Things have been extra rough during conference play, where he has shot 34 percent from the floor. Watching 5-of-9 shots go in against Loyola Marymount was nice because Bell needs to keep his confidence up. According to Hoop-Math.com, Bell is shooting just 56 percent from field goals at the rim. That isn't poor shot selection -- just a bit of bad luck.
Kevin Pangos place in history.
After he hit four three pointers against LMU to move into second place all-time in school history, Kevin Pangos is this close to becoming the most prolific three point shooter in school history. Pangos sits at 283 career threes -- five behind Blake Stepp's school record of 288. Pangos most likely won't break that record tonight because he isn't required by the offense to launch up three after three. But if he gets close, look for him to at least try and tie the record. Pangos has hit five threes three times this season.
Oh ... and this.
Eric McClellan cleared for Gonzaga and practiced yesterday. There is a chance he makes debut tonight against Saint Mary's, source told ESPN.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) January 22, 2015
Time: 8 p.m. PT
Radio: AM 1510 KGA (Spokane), AM 880 KIXI (Seattle), AM 1360 KUIK (Portland)