On Saturday evening, while much of Washington settled in under the quiet blanket of snow, the Gonzaga Bulldogs packed the house in McCarthey Athletic Center for a game against their WCC rivals, the Saint Mary’s Gaels.
The final score was not anything representative of a traditional “rivalry” game. Gonzaga won, 94-46. It wasn’t just a win, it was an absolute dismantling of a team that is much better than 46 points indicate. Last night, however, you wouldn’t have noticed. Gonzaga jumped out to an early 10 point lead, stretched that to 20, and furthered it to over 30 points by halftime.
In terms of pure entertainment value, last night’s game is probably on par with the win over Duke. As Keith pointed out in his observations, there were too many highlight reel plays to choose from: off the backboard dunks by Brandon Clarke, behind the back passes by Geno Crandall, we can go on and on. For 40 minutes, the Zags looked like some freakish combo of the Golden State Warriors and the Harlem Globetrotters.
The timing of the game couldn’t have been any more perfect as well. Yesterday, it was revealed Killian Tillie suffered a partially torn ligament in his foot. Tillie’s season is either over or he comes back to play spot minutes in the NCAA Tournament. Yesterday, the Gonzaga Bulldogs were revealed to be a No. 1 seed in the bracket reveal, much to the chagrin of probably the greater population.
The Zags will always have to prove to the distrusting general public why they are good and if anyone tuned into the game last night, that was the proof. Gonzaga’s been throttling its WCC competition at an unprecedented level. Saint Mary’s, generally speaking, is not supposed to be included in that equation.
The Gaels held the No. 11 ranked offense by KenPom as of last night. The Gaels don’t necessarily score a lot of points because of their tempo, but they score efficiently, with a 117.3 AdjO efficiency by KenPom. Last night, Saint Mary’s averaged a paltry 0.71 points per possession. The Gaels finished with only one assist in the whole game (becoming the third team this season to be held to only one or zero assists in 40 minutes).
The defensive intensity was so great that Gonzaga made as large of a leap up the defensive rankings as possible. Gonzaga’s defense was ranked No. 28 by KenPom last night. This morning, it rose to No. 20, and with it, the Zags rose to No. 2 in the overall efficiency rankings.
For most people across the nation, none of this matters, because yesterday, the Duke Blue Devils shot the three-point at an unsustainable rate and Duke is therefore unbeatable yet again.
And that is fine. If Gonzaga needs to operate as a Final Four dark horse despite being a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, so be it. Gonzaga dismantled a Saint Mary’s team that is supposed to be good. In doing so, the Zags defeated a top-50 KenPom team by a higher margin than any other top 10 team has this season—by a large amount.
The biggest takeaway from this game was that we saw peak Gonzaga last night, and the Saint Mary’s Gaels were utterly hopeless. Last night, the Zags were straight up unbeatable, and they were doing it minus Killian Tillie. When Tillie returned, the national storyline was watch out for the Zags. Last night, with Tillie out, the Zags demonstrated that same storyline continues.