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Gonzaga vs. Saint Mary’s game preview: Time for redemption

If the Zags want to win at least a share of the WCC title, they need to take care of business in Moraga.

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NCAA Basketball: St. Mary's at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, one of the west coast’s best rivalries throws down as the Gonzaga Bulldogs head to Moraga to try and steal one away from the Saint Mary’s Gaels. Need any more proof that this is a huge ticket? The cheapest standing room only seats are going for more money than the Spurs at the Warriors.

The Zags had to fight tooth and nail to push past the Pacific Tigers on Thursday, winning 71-61. It was by no means a scary contest, but boy was it an ugly one. Meanwhile, the Gaels had no troubles with LMU, winning 83-62. Saint Mary’s shot an absurd 72.2 percent from two in that game.

Meet the opponent

Saint Mary’s Gaels, 24-2, KenPom #14

We already did a pretty decent breakdown of what the Zags need to do to pull out a win in Moraga. The two teams have been in the same holding pattern since facing each other a month ago. Some good wins, some close wins, and just some really close wins in the case of Saint Mary’s. The Gaels have won six-straight since facing Gonzaga, but two of those wins came by a combined six points. Credit given where credit is due, however, both of those games were on the road.

So let’s take a look at the two close games to see what Gonzaga can do to try and steal a win tomorrow night. Against Pacific and San Diego, one of the big indicators was ball pressure. No team in the conference is better at it than San Diego, and the Toreros harassed the Gaels into 13 turnovers. The most important part of that number: nine from point guard Emmett Naar. That is going to be an outlier, because the Gaels are fantastic with ball control. The Zags don’t play super aggressive defense, but perhaps they need to use their bigger bodies to force the issue. Naar isn’t invincible. He has 11 games with four or more turnovers this season. For comparison, Josh Perkins has just six of those games.

Against Pacific, the Gaels were almost doomed by poor three point shooting. That doesn’t necessarily mean Saint Mary’s is going to lose, however. In the five games Saint Mary’s has either lost (Georgia, Washington State) or won by three points (Gonzaga, Pacific, San Diego) has shot 50, 56, and 61 percent from three, as well as 29 and 30 percent. This is as complete of an offense as they come.

What to watch out for

Zags have to shoot the three ball better.

This is sort of a no-brainer. Against the Gaels the first time, Gonzaga shot just 27.3 percent from long range, the lowest mark on the season. Actually, it tied the lowest mark in the season (blah until yesterday). Interestingly enough, the Zags have shot 27.3 from long range THREE times this season. Even weirder, the Zags were 6-of-22 in all three games. Not as weird, they lost two of those games. The two wins—Utah State and BYU. At any rate, shooting that low from three will do you no favors in Moraga, and the Zags are better shooters than that.

The guards have to get more involved.

It is easy to forget that the game against Saint Mary’s in Spokane was almost not close at all, but thankfully, Rui Hachimura dropped 23 points. Perkins, Silas Melson, Corey Kispert and Zach Norvell combined for 24 points. On an average night, those four players combine for 43 points. The Saint Mary’s defense is not good enough to dictate how Gonzaga’s offense operates, but that is seemingly what happened earlier this year. The guards, specifically Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell, need to take over this game. Jock Landale provides a difficult body to go up against in the paint, but the Zags are too good of shooters to worry about that.

Move the offense through the front court

In the first game this year, the Zags got off a game plan and never re-found it. The offense broke down into 20 minutes or so of hero ball, which only works if your name is Rui Hachimura and your shots keep going in. Saint Mary’s might have Jock Landale, but Gonzaga has Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie. Against Pacific, the outside shots weren’t falling worth anything, but the Zags kept funneling the ball to Tillie, who was having an amazing game. These are the sorts of adjustments good teams need to make against good teams. Saint Mary’s doesn’t have a lot of height up front. You get either Landale or Evan Fitzner in trouble and the Gaels basically switch to a four guard lineup. The Gonzaga bigs are quick enough and versatile enough on defense to negate any positives from that.