This is a big week for Gonzaga basketball for both genders, with at the end of the week there being a clear No. 1 team in both leagues.
When it comes to the women, the Zags reign supreme at 13-4 (6-0). But just behind is Saint Mary’s 12-5 (5-1). The Gaels have already defeated BYU at home, while losing their only conference game of the season to LMU.
That team is looking for revenge against Gonzaga, after getting swept in all three games last season, including getting trounced in the WCC title game, thanks to Jill Barta’s career-high 37 points. The Gaels best player last year was guard Devon Galland, but has graduated and moved on. However, they return just about everyone else, and even adds a couple of more talented pieces to a puzzle the Zags have to solve.
It’s utterly ridiculous how similar the men’s and women’s teams in Moraga are, creepy really. The program was irrelevant in the conference until the arrival of Paul Thomas, who now in his 12th year with the program has made them a constant thorn in the Zag’s side. They’ve won 20 games in each of the last six years, and have made the WCC Tournament finals in four of the last five.
How Saint Mary’s plays
Like I said before, just like the men. They’re one of the best shooting teams in the country, ranked No. 11 at 48%. The Gaels have a +8 rebound margin, also a top-tier figure. And of course, they pass the ball and use up the shot clock before scoring. But also like the men, they don’t force turnovers, and is one of the worst in terms of getting steals. That bodes well for a Zag teams that likes to pound the ball inside without being interrupted.
Key players for the Gaels
Three upperclassmen lead the way for this team, with the star Gael being 6’3 Megan Mckay. The junior forward averages 15.6 ppg and 6.7 rpg and shoots almost 60% from the field. In the last game against Pepperdine, she had a season-high 28 points in the win. Junior forward Sydney Raggio averages 14.1 ppg, and leads the team in rebounding at 8.6 rpg. Senior guard Stella Beck is the top guard of the team, and was an All-WCC first teamer last year. She averaged 12.8 ppg and averages five assists a game.
Saint Mary’s as a team doesn’t shoot great from three, but freshman Madeline Holland is a lethal threat, shooting 48% from deep. This is a methodical team, using screens to create room for their bigs to dominate down low.
Why Saint Mary’s can win this game
I can’t stress how bad this team is in terms of shooting the three ball. Together, the Zags shoot just 24% from deep, good for 337th out of 349 teams. Their saving grace is the defense, as they only allow opponents to shoot 27% from deep, basically an average of three extra points, when you take into account the misses by both teams. And when you consider the usual massive advantage Gonzaga has inside, that’s how they’ve been winning.
But that won’t be the case this time, as the Gaels can match-up with this team in terms of size that no one else can. Saint Mary’s strong ability to rebound also takes away from Gonzaga’s second chance opportunity, something they rely on for points.
Why Gonzaga can win this game
The Gaels frontcourt has yet to face a team like the Zags in the post, and could easily get into foul trouble. One way Gonzaga can get the advantage is by using the Wirth twins, whose been playing great as of late, to body Mckay and Raggio up and soften them up for both Barta and Zykera Rice. Just like the men’s there’s no team in the WCC that has the depth as the Zags, and if this becomes a physical, defensive struggle, we have the advantage.
And while Saint Mary’s loves to pass the ball, sometimes it gets to the opponents, as the Gaels turns it over almost 18 times a game. That might be how Gonzaga get’s the team’s easy points.
How and when to watch the game
Time and date: Thursday 9:30 p.m. ET./ 6:30 p.m. PT.
How: WCC Sports App, TheW.tv website and the Stadium App
I understand that scheduling can be complicated, but why would the women’s game be played 30 apart from the men’s? Especially for a game like this, where most of the eyes will be on the nationally televised one. I understand ESPN is involved, but the WCC could’ve done better with a marque women’s game when it comes to timing. Just like on the men’s side, Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary’s are top top draws, so prioritizing those games would be in the league’s best interest (sorry for the rant).
But even for those who can’t watch, follow @ZagWBB on twitter for updates during the game, or even wait until the next day to watch a replay, because this is going to be a fun battle between two really good teams.