The Gonzaga Bulldogs face off against their old nemesis, the Saint Mary’s Gaels, on Saturday evening, at 7:00 pm, on ESPN.
The Zags are coming off of a harder-than-it-looked victory over Pepperdine on Thursday, The Waves stuck around with Gonzaga for the better part of 20 minutes, but ultimately, like everyone before them this season, couldn’t hang for the full 40.
Saint Mary’s looked like they were in the process of taking one from BYU last night. However, the Cougars outscored the Gaels 17-2 in the final 10 minutes to win, 62-52.
Meet the Opponent
Saint Mary’s Gaels, 9-4, KenPom #84
With the departure of Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts, it was always going to be an uphill climb for the Gaels this season. Former walk-on Tommy Kuhse, now given the full keys to the car, is doing his best effort. Unfortunately, this year, the Gaels just don’t have the supporting pieces to run a decent offense that is lacking both Ford and Fitts.
This is understandable, considering Randy Bennett’s entire offense last season revolved around Ford and Fitts. This year, the only thing that has changed is the ball is in Kuhse’s hands more often, but he just isn’t as dynamic of a player as Ford. The same thing can be said overall for the entire Gaels squad this season. They are still playing as slow a pace as normal, but the offense is much worse. They can’t shoot the three too well, and if they fall behind more athletic squads (Memphis, San Diego State), Saint Mary’s has no way to recover.
Considering that the Zags are an incredibly athletic squad that loves more than anything to push the pace, it is hard to see a way in which the Gaels can keep this a close and competitive game. It is not hopeless for them, however.
What to Watch Out For
Saint Mary’s defense can be disruptive.
One line of thinking is that opponents three-point percentage is not the best indicator of a defense because, in general, players don’t attempt contested three-pointers too often. On the other hand, the two-point realm is where the meat of the offense happens, and that is where the defensive disruption truly takes place.
The Gaels, as it turns out, are pretty good in that realm—18th-best mark in the country. They’ve got active hands, not so much in forcing turnovers, but denying assists and playing overall decent team defense. We saw Gonzaga’s offense looks rather stagnant last night. If that happens agains, the Gaels will have a fighting chance.
How Does Gonzaga Establish its Three-point Shot?
This is almost a question specifically for Corey Kispert. The Gaels defense has the fifth-lowest 3PA/FGA mark in the nation at 28 percent. Now, luckily, Gonzaga doesn’t rely on the three this season for the most part, but that is a very big portion of Kispert’s offensive contributions. The Zags need Kispert’s shots to fall to open up everything down low, because Saint Mary’s is going to do everything it can to deny him the shot.
It shouldn’t be too much of an issue, however. Kispert has hit at least two three-pointers in every game this season except for two.
Zags Need to Attack the Offensive Glass.
The Gaels are one of the better defending rebounding teams in the nation. The Zags are one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the nation. Obviously, someone has to win out here. Saint Mary’s has to check alot of boxes to even dream of pulling the upset, and if they can’t keep Drew Timme, Joel Ayayi, and Anton Watson off the offensive glass, it’ll be over before it even started. If Saint Mary’s wants even a chance of winning, they have to limit the Zags to one possession each trip down the court.