The more things change, the more they stay the same. And so it goes for the WCC as the Gonzaga Bulldogs take another WCC Tournament Championship back to Spokane after holding off Saint Mary’s 82-69.
Two in the row against Gonzaga was not in the cards for the Gaels, but they certainly made their counterparts work hard for the right to cut down the nets in the Orleans Arena. It was a respectable effort from a Saint Mary’s squad that looks capable of making it out of the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament, while the Zags got the test their coaches were likely hoping for as they make their final preparations for dancing season.
Five different Zags scored in double figures, led by Andrew Nembhard (19 points) who is surely taking home the Tournament MVP Award. Gonzaga’s depth and balance won out, though SMC’s Logan Johnson (21 points) and Tommy Kuhse (15 points) did their best to pull off another upset.
Episode III of the series between these two teams this season proved to be a true grinder. Gonzaga’s high flying offense was once again grounded, though its defense rose to the occasion and stifled the Gaels and their plodding offense. The result was a low scoring, but compelling contest between two rivals who don’t have much love between them.
Reminiscent of proceedings in Moraga, Holmgren and Timme were once again bottled up by SMC for long stretches of the game. The Gaels have found the secret sauce for frustrating Gonzaga’s bigs and slowing down its transition game, which forced the Zags to play a less efficient and perimeter-oriented game that cuts against the DNA of how they want to play basketball.
Despite that, Gonzaga can play that way and still win. After all, the #1 team in the country is a pretty dynamic squad that can win in a variety of ways. The trio of Strawther, Bolton, and Nembhard were crucial in carrying Gonzaga’s offense throughout the night, equally sharing the burden of producing and taking turns stepping up in moments when the offense was on the verge of stalling out.
Now that they have secured another WCC Championship, Gonzaga’s focus turns to finally breaking through and capturing the last achievement that has eluded the program despite getting closer and closer over the last five years. Is this finally the year? We’re about to find out.