The last time the Gonzaga Bulldogs faced off against the Saint Mary's Gaels unspeakable horrors happened and we will not talk about them. Emotions are best suppressed forever and ever.
This time around, the tables have turned. Saint Mary's walks into Spokane on Senior Night, essentially the worst time the Gaels could step foot into our house. The Spokane faithful will say goodbye to Kyle Wiltjer, Eric McClellan and Kyle Dranginis, further amplifying the emotion behind the game.
Despite the argument Greg Heister spent much of the second-half pushing last night, the Zags need to win the WCC Tournament to ensure their name is called on Selection Sunday. Anything less than that will make for an uneasy viewing party.
Meet the opponent
Saint Mary's Gaels, 20-4, KenPom #44
Since the Gaels jammed Gonzaga's face in the mud back in Moraga, things have only gone so-so. Saint Mary's lost to BYU on the road and surprisingly dropped a game at home to Pepperdine. Things almost completely unraveled last night against Portland and Saint Mary's barely squeaked out a two-point win.
Despite all of that, however, still the same Saint Mary's basketball team. They have the highest eFG% in the nation and the second-best three-point shooting team in the country. That three-point shooting has come slightly back down to Earth as of late, but its deadliness manifested itself for a bit against Portland. Saint Mary's hit 9-of-13 in the first half, but then went 0-for-9 in the second half to offset it.
The Gaels run a potent and balanced offense, highlighted by Emmett Naar and his 13.3 points. He is joined by Calvin Hermanson, Dane Pineau and Joe Rahon, all contributing double-digit points. Evan Fitzner and Jock Landale each sit right outside, averaging nine points per game.
The Gaels run a patient offense based off finding the best shot possible. Both Rahon and Naar can distribute the ball with the best of ‘em, averaging 6.2 assists per game. Saint Mary's takes care of the ball as well and their 233 total turnovers as a team is the fifth lowest in the country.
What to watch out for
Let the emotions flow, but keep them in check as well.
This is a big game for Kyle Dranginis, who will step onto The Kennel floor for the 60th time, and the last time of his collegiate career. Wiltjer came in the star, and is leaving the program as one of the more impactful transfers we have had. Eric McClellan found a second-chance with the Gonzaga Bulldogs and has made the most of it. These kids have a lot to be proud of, but still plenty to prove on the court.
This is why it is important to keep the head on what is happening on the court, and worry about all those feelings later. As we know, Gonzaga coughed up that big lead to lose to Saint Mary's last time around. Saint Mary's is a team that plays efficiently and will punish you on turnovers. Gonzaga needs to stay level-headed to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Hopefully Kyle Wiltjer is able to rest up before the game.
Wiltjer rolled his ankle against Pacific on the same foot that was giving him problems this year. He stayed in the game for a couple of minutes but looked visibly slower than usual, and left the game for a couple of minutes. He came back in the second half and it didn't look like anything was wrong in the first place.
A Wiltjer that only has one working foot isn't a good Wiltjer. He is already slow enough on defense that when he gets any slower its like he might as well not stand on the court. Ryan Edwards has been playing better minutes as of late, but the Zags can hardly afford to lose Wiltjer's shooting prowess, especially against Saint Mary's. Zags will need him at 100 percent for this one.
Przemek Karnowski isn't taking part in Senior Night stuff.
Let's not make anything more of it. Karnowski told Jim Meehan that he wouldn't partake in Senior Night because his parents won't be there.
Let's make sure the door doesn't hit Saint Mary's in the ass on the way out.
There are plenty of times that I love to watch us beat, and Saint Mary's is the top dog in that arena. A win over Saint Mary's not only gives Gonzaga a win that will look good on the resume, but it also pokes yet another hole into Saint Mary's already deflated NCAA Tournament bubble. It also means that the Gaels have four losses in WCC play, and face an uphill climb to have any portion of the conference title. Most of all, even amongst all the carnage that has been this season, we need to remind them that the road to March always comes through Spokane.