Mark Few has never missed a WCC championship game as a head coach. Saint Mary’s had no chance of ending that streak on Monday night. Gonzaga took control from the opening tip and dispatched the Gaels, 78-55.
There was no issue of rust after not playing for nine days. Everyone got involved in the first half. Joel Ayayi hit a transition three and had a trademark baseline cut layup. Andrew Nembhard hit a pair of threes and was absolutely masterful in ball screens. Corey Kispert got out in transition like he always does. Drew Timme got his patented early post-ups, but also led the break twice. He went 7-for-8 from the field in 16 minutes. All told, Gonzaga shot 64 percent in the first 20 minutes and led 44-26 at halftime.
This year’s Saint Mary’s team is quite different than the last decade. Their offense simply doesn’t have elite playmakers and their three-point shooters have been hurt on-and-off all season. Because of that, they have relied on their defense, and entering tonight, they were ranked 12th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom. Gonzaga does not care about those numbers.
All five Gonzaga starters were in double figures with nine minutes left. In fact, the starters were the only ones to score almost all night. The Zags had zero bench points until Anton Watson’s dunk with six minutes to go. If you’re looking for any gripe, I guess it could be bench points and turnovers. It felt like Gonzaga was a little loose with the ball, finishing with 14 turnovers for the game. Of course, with a 20-point lead most of the night, it’s natural to have some let downs. Such is life in the WCC this season.
Timme finished with 18 points (8-11 FG), eight rebounds, and four assists. Ayayi was right there with 16 points and eight rebounds. Suggs added 15 points, seven rebounds, three assists, and two steals. Kispert had 14 points and six rebounds, but missed all five shots from beyond the arc. Nembhard had 10 points and zero turnovers. It was a masterclass in balance.
Gonzaga will face BYU on Tuesday after the Cougars won a dramatic overtime game against Pepperdine. They bounced back in OT to win it after giving up a buzzer beater to Colbey Ross in regulation. This will be Gonzaga 24th straight West Coast Conference championship game, which is absolutely mind-blowing. Pepperdine was close to becoming the first WCC team not named Saint Mary’s or BYU to face the Zags in the title game since San Diego beat them in 2008, but fell just short. You can watch Tuesday’s game on ESPN at 6 pm.