While Gonzaga's win late last night over Saint Mary's looks darn good from a box score perspective, those of us that actually watched the game know that it doesn't tell half the story. The 21 point margin is fantastic but it did not happen without a fair amount of struggles. As Mark Few was quoted as saying after the game, the Zags basically kept doing their thing over and over and, eventually, they broke through. To put some more detail to that statement, the "breaking through" moment is pretty clear and it was a five minute stretch midway through the second half. Let's take a look at some individual plays that sealed the deal for the Bulldogs.
13:15 remaining in the second half: Kyle Dranginis offensive rebound following two missed Przemek Karnowski free throws
To me, this was quietly the biggest play of the game. Karnowski heaved up two line drive free throw attempts that missed and, on the second one, Kyle collected the rebound and kept the possession alive for the Zags. Fellow guard Gary Bell made a jump shot to close out the possession to extend the lead to six points. As I said, a very quiet moment but if Saint Mary's grabs that board and scores on the other end, we are looking at a 35-33 Gonzaga lead rather than a 37-31 advantage for the Bulldogs. Dranginis was outstanding all night in his role. He hit both shots he took and pulled down three boards.
11:10 and 10:43 remaining in the second half: Przemek Karnowski gets fierce and puts home back to back dunks
Kevin Pangos is the court general for this team, Kyle Wiltjer is the silky smooth scorer, but there hasn't been a more efficient Zag in the month of January than the big center from Poland. Karnowksi has shot at or above 70% from the floor in every game this month and while he has struggled with fouls in several games, he has been damn good in his time on the floor. This was no more evident than last night. He played just 17 minutes and scored 12 points including two major dunks with 11 minutes left. His second slam gave the Bulldogs a nine point lead with just under 11 minutes left.
8:44 remaining: Silas Melson drains a three-point shot
In his first taste of action against Saint Mary's, Silas Melson did not disappoint. While he was just 1-3 from the floor, all which came behind the arc, he was aggressive and played well on the defensive end. With 8:44 left, he got the ball at the top of the three point arc and drilled the attempt to give the Zags a 48-34 advantage. While I tweeted out 'Dagger' following Kyle Wiltjer's three soon after, Melson's make was the true 'game over' moment for Mark Few's club.
All the while during this time, the Bulldogs were playing incredible defense. For the game, Saint Mary's connected on just 18 of their 50 shot attempts and were 2-15 from beyond the arc. Gonzaga also limited second chance opportunities as they smoked the Gaels on the boards, thanks in large part to Domantas Sabonis who had 13 boards. As a team, the Zags had 36 boards to Saint Mary's 28.
Believe it or not, we've got just over a month left of regular season play and the Zags continue to play very solid basketball on both ends. Their return game to Saint Mary's in about a month will be another test for this team but it is hard to envision a loss with such a balanced approach.