Job done. After the most remarkable regular season in the history of the Gonzaga men’s basketball program, the Zags secured another WCC Conference title to secure its 19th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance after defeating the Saint Mary’s Gaels 74-56.
Nigel Williams-Goss, named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament after the game, led all scorers with 22 points to go along with 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 6 steals. Senior Przemek Karnowski, named to the All-Tournament Team, was a dominant force all night and finished with a double-double at 15 points and 10 rebounds, along with 4 blocks.
The WCC Conference Championship Game started out with some good fortune for the Gaels, as Johnathan Williams’ (All-Tournament Team) tipoff sent the ball sailing out of bounds. For the rest of the first half though, it was all Gonzaga as the Bulldog freight train plowed through the Gaels.
The Zags seemed to have an extra bounce in their step during the first 20 minutes, suffocating Saint Mary’s patient offensive approach and holding the Gaels to 21.4% shooting from the field (6-28) and 10 turnovers—both figures very out of character for the WCC’s perennial also-ran.
Williams must have eaten his Wheaties, because the Mizzou-transfer made his presence felt in the opening minutes of the game. He started the scoring for the Zags by outhustling the Gaels to an offensive board and tip-back, and then brought the crowd to its feet a few plays later with a thunderous dunk.
Gonzaga established its post-game early through Williams and Przemek Karnowski, with Bob Cousy award finalist Nigel Williams-Goss pulling the strings and punctuating the end of the first half with a steal and transition layup that sent the Zags into the break with a 39-18 lead.
The Gaels came out of the break intent on flipping the script. Gonzaga’s intensity and concentration from the first half appeared to wane at the start of the second and Saint Mary’s took advantage, reeling off a 14-5 run despite Jock Landale on the bench for most of it due to foul trouble.
The Gaels didn’t go away quietly, controlling the pace of proceedings and reducing the deficit all the way down to 5 points at the 10-minute mark—completely changing the atmosphere inside the arena. However, Landale’s inevitable fourth foul sent him to the bench, and Gonzaga used that opportunity to create some more breathing room.
Over the next 5:30, Gonzaga went on a 14-2 run that featured three, THREE, consecutive and-1s that all but iced the game. Even with Landale back on the floor for the Gaels, the damage was done and the celebration could begin in earnest. All that was left to do was for Rui Hachimura to put his stamp of approval on proceedings, which he did with a nice 3 and a sly smile to close the game.
Just hours after the Lady Zags punched their own ticket to the dance with their own dominant win over Saint Mary’s, red, white, and blue confetti fell from the ceiling again, and the Zags will find themselves in a comfortable position come Selection Sunday.