In their best all-around game of the season, the Zags dominated St. Mary’s from the opening tip to reestablish their place as the WCC’s premier team with a 78-65 win.
The Zags started aggressively hitting their first three shots, all three-pointers, then showed their strategy to shutdown St Mary’s; always double team Landale. Jock Landale didn’t get his first score until 8:34 in the first half and that was on a sprint down the floor. Landale, having his worst game of the year, was held to 4 points on just 4 shots. His primary partner in crime, Emmett Naar, was held to only 5 points on 2 for 9 shooting and more impressively only 2 assists.
Gonzaga’s balanced attack was led by Rui in probably his most impressive performance of the season with 23 points. Rui looked unstoppable, scoring in the post, flying across the lane or pulling up for the mid-range jumper. JWIII proved to be tonight’s dominant player in the paint with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Zach Norvell Jr. hit some key and timely 3’s in the second half ending the game with 15 points and 4 assists and Josh Perkins was solid with 13 points and 4 assists. Probably the best indicator of how well the Zags played tonight was only 4 turnovers but 7 steals.
Coach Few and staff found the right way to counter St Mary’s primary strength, the Landale/Naar combination from the high screen and roll. When Rui was in the game, he picked up Naar early leaving JWIII with Landale. If they had to switch, Rui proved more than capable of shutting down Landale until the double team arrived and JWIII was just too big and too quick to allow Naar an easy path to the basket. In fact, St Mary’s primary offensive production came from Jordan Ford on penetrations to the goal. He led the Gaels in scoring with 17 points. Cullen Neal added 16 points, but most of them came in the 2nd half when the game was probably already decided.
The Zags played with an energy and a fire probably not seen since the UW game. St Mary’s, who shot 62% from three at the Kennel, shot only 5 for 20 from deep tonight as GU played a swarming defense around the perimeter. Landale did have 4 assists passing out of the double teams, but most of the time he had to pass to a teammate who was closely guarded and didn’t have a chance to shoot. With their deliberate pacing and ball control offense, St. Mary’s just couldn’t push the pace as the Zags extended their lead to 22 with 12 minutes to play in the second half.
With the Zags playing six of their toughest conference games in the last eight games of the season, there had been a lot of discussion and a lot of worry amongst the fanbase on just how good this year’s team is. They are now 4-0 in those games so far, return home next week to play LMU and Pepperdine, before closing the season out at San Diego and BYU. As has been the standard over the past several seasons, GU starts playing it’s best basketball in mid-February and are seemingly able to reach their peak in March.
It’s a night to celebrate Zags fans. Revenge is sweet and GU should begin next week in the top ten of the polls.