The Gonzaga Bulldogs are WCC (co)-Champions for the 11th-consecutive season after defeating the Saint Mary’s Gaels on Saturday evening in one of the most heated games of the season,
During the first half, Logan Johnson made sure that the hangover from the first matchup between the two teams didn’t continue. The Gaels senior guard was electric, scoring 15 points, draining both of his three point attempts, and carrying Saint Mary’s as well as he could. Unfortunately for Johnson, that load was a bit much for any human player, considering not a single other Saint Mary’s player entered halftime with more than three points.
Meanwhile, on the Zags end, they did three very important things in the first half: 1) Rendered Aidan Mahaney irrelevant (zero points, three turnovers, two fouls); 2) deny The Gaels basically any second-chance points (one offensive rebound overall); and 3) Spread the offensive wealth. The Zags went into halftime led by Anton Watson and Malachi Smith’s eight points. Nolan Hickman was right behind with seven. Drew Timme with six and Hunter Sallis with five. The offense was death by 1,000 cuts for 20 minutes, and the Zags took a 39-26 lead into halftime.
Much of that success was a product of the 3/4 pressure the Zags applied throughout the game. Even though the Gaels are one of the slowest tempo teams in the nation, the Zags made sure the Gaels offense routinely did not get started until their were 15 seconds left on the shot clock.
The second half start was a bit reminiscent of the first time around in Moraga. Mahaney, after going scoreless in the first half, scored a quick eight points to help bring the Gaels within six with 11 minutes left. From there, it was a good ‘ol fashion dog fight until the end.
The difference this time around is that the Zags were always able to keep the Gaels at just enough of an arm’s length. Saint Mary’s threatened repeatedly but were never able to bring it to a one-possession ball game. Much of that stemmed from the Gonzaga role players, especially after Timme, who finished with 19 points, picked up an early fourth foul.
Malachi Smith operated like a champ on both the offensive and defensive end, smothering Mahaney after his early eight point outburst. Smith finished with a tidy 13 points but it was largely that defensive intensity that made the difference.
Alongside him, Anton Watson had one of this best games of the season. Watson finished with 17 points, eight rebounds, three assists, a block, and four steals. He made key offensive contributions and was a defensive menace as usual.
Those role players were the difference. Logan Johnson was phenomenal, scoring 27 points and relentlessly driving on the Zags, attempting 15 (!!!) free throws. Outside of Johnson, however, the rest of the Gaels offense was a bit pedestrian. Alex Ducas scored 10 and Mahaney and Joshua Jefferson added nine, but that was about it.
All in all, it was a gritty win against a good Saint Mary’s team, and exactly what you’d like to see out of this Gonzaga team at this time. The Gaels are too good to beat by 20 points and have too many players to just wilt over for a full 40 minutes. Gonzaga absorbed the best punch to the gut and never staggered too far back. For it, they’ll be WCC Champs for yet another year.