After five straight road games, and a sixth that was canceled, the Gonzaga Bulldogs finally get to play in the McCarthey Athletic Center again on Thursday. For the first time since January 23rd, the Zags will host a home game, with their rivals from Moraga coming to town. It’s very possible we see some families in the stands for the first time this season.
Saint Mary’s has had a rough 2021. After picking up some decent non-conference wins, they suffered injuries to their two best shooters, Alex Ducas and Leemet Bockler. They opened WCC play with three straight home losses to Santa Clara, BYU, and Gonzaga. After picking up two road wins and gaining a little momentum, they went on Covid pause. After three weeks off, they returned to play Pepperdine last Saturday. After trailing the entire game, their late 14-1 run tied it with under 10 seconds to play. But a foul to a driving Colbey Ross with two seconds left sealed their fate, dropping them to 2-4 and eighth place in the WCC Standings.
Because of their strength of schedule in the conference, the Gaels were actually ranked fourth in the newly released WCC standings that the league will use to seed teams in the WCC Tournament.
This is simply not your typical Saint Mary’s team. Ducas is back now, but they don’t have elite knockdown shooters. They have a good lead guard in Tommy Kuhse, but he is not the level of Jordan Ford or the many others before him. Matthias Tass is a good big man, but he doesn’t dominate games like Jock Landale or Omar Samhan. Usually, Randy Bennett teams get better as the season moves along, but with multiple injuries and a lengthy pause, there hasn’t been enough stability to get that type of improvement.
Instead, what Saint Mary’s is left with is a KenPom ranking of 77, the lowest they have been at this point of a season since 2007 when Todd Golden was a junior guard. Their effective field goal percentage and three-point percentage are both dead last in WCC play. Their adjusted offensive efficiency is the worst its been since Bennett’s second season in Moraga in 2003.
However, their defense is vastly improved from past seasons. It’s the best adjusted defensive efficiency in Bennett’s 20 years at the helm. They hold teams to just 44.7 percent inside the arc, their second best mark of the last decade. They are an exceptionally good defensive rebounding team.
It’s no surprise that Gonzaga faced a grinder of a game the first they met this season. Saint Mary’s held Gonzaga to their fourth lowest points per possession of the season and even held an early double digit lead before Aaron Cook sparked the Zags to a huge run late in the first half.
This time around, in Gonzaga’s first home game in nearly a month, in front of some possible family and friends, it’s hard to imagine they don’t come out with some intensity and put the Gaels to bed early. A win on Thursday would be their 48th straight home victory, two shy of the McCarthey Athletic Center record.
Game: Saint Mary’s at #1 Gonzaga
Time: Thursday, 6 pm pacific
TV: ESPN (Dan Shulman, Jay Bilas)
KenPom: 81-61 Gonzaga