The Gonzaga Bulldogs will take on the Saint Mary’s Gaels in the Kennel Saturday night in their first meeting of the season. As a Gonzaga student, whenever our team was playing Saint Mary’s, it was always THE game that you could not miss. It was arguably the one conference game that could easily be decided either way. Both the Zags and the Gaels are known for their admiration and recruitment of foreign talent which has seemed to bode well for each team and assisted in making them conference rivals (before BYU made their WCC debut).
Basically, I’m here to argue that the Saint Mary’s of today is not the same caliber of competition for the Zags as the Saint Mary’s of years past had been. At the same time, I’m crossing my fingers that Saint Mary’s will be able to provide some sort of competition for the Bulldogs because competitive basketball is fun basketball - Zags fans don’t need another snooze fest.
Not as strong
Of course, the Zags are leading the WCC but Saint Mary’s is back in 4th place - we’re used to seeing them in 2nd or even 3rd place. Even after splitting their regular season games one a piece last season, the Gaels are just not up to par this season.
Here’s your proof: at the end of last season, the Gaels’ record was 28-5; this season they are already at 14-9 with 8 regular season games left. That being said, they do have wins against the 2nd and 3rd ranked WCC teams - BYU and San Francisco respectively. Can they pull off another road win...against the #1 team? Let’s see what the Gaels have going for them…
Strengths of the Gaels
On the offensive end, the Gaels are led by Jordan Ford (21.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.5 spg), Malik Fitts (16.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.3 spg), Jordan Hunter (9.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.0 bpg), and Tanner Krebs (8.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg). Saint Mary’s averages 77.0 ppg on 48.6% shooting from the field and 7.9 three-pointers per game on 37.9% shooting from the field. On defense, they hold their opponents to an average of 67.0 ppg on 44.5% shooting from the field, have a rebound margin of 5.0 and a turnover margin of 0.5.
Malik Fitts scored a career high 30 points while the Gaels held off a late rally in their 86-80 win against San Francisco. Jordan Ford contributed 26 points and Tommy Kuhse, who scored 17 points, split a pair of free throws to give the Gaels a four-point lead with 18 seconds left in the game.
In their loss to the Gaels last year, the Zags shot poorly during the second half which allowed Saint Mary’s efficient offense to execute fully. Jock Landale, who entered the NBA draft after last season, had 26 points and 12 rebounds. Jordan Ford added 10 points for the Gaels. On the other end, Rui Hachimura came off the bench to score 23 points for the Zags and Johnathon Williams added 13.
The Zags got their revenge in the second matchup, beating the Gaels 78-65 while also snapping the Saint Mary’s 19-game win streak. Hachimura scored 21 points and Zach Norvell Jr. added 17 of his own. The key to keeping the Gaels at bay was neutralizing their offense which ended up holding Landale to only four shots and two baskets.
Can the Zags hold off a hungry, albeit less-than-normal skilled Saint Mary’s team?
#4 Gonzaga vs. Saint Mary’s 10:00 PM ET on ESPN2 on Saturday, February 9th