I’ll take free basketball between the top two teams in the West Coast Conference, #12 Gonzaga at #18 Saint Mary’s but not if it ends that way. Besides the loss, I still couldn’t think of a better way to spend my Saturday night in Moraga.
It’s hard to believe that Saint Mary’s Aidan Mahaney (18 points on 8-19 FG, 3 assists) is just a freshman. He brought the Gaels back in this one almost single-handedly in the 2nd half/OT even after struggling to shoot from the field in the 1st half. Mark Few put an emphasis on his team to zero in on the Saint Mary’s star and make sure every shot was tough. The local Lafayette native stayed composed and aggressive even after his early shooting struggles.
That signature leftie hook shot of his is really hard for anyone to stop. Plus, his game off the dribble is lethal. Wait, Can’t forget about his deep dime bag to go along with all of the varieties in his offensive play.
I hate to do this. To add more bad news on top of the already tough loss in the first matchup of the season with Saint Mary’s, Nolan Hickman slipt after missing a layup in OT and looks to have hurt his right ankle. The lead guard couldn’t walk off the floor on his own and needed support. The floor on that specific possession looked extremely slippery all over the court, have to point that out.
That would be a brutal injury to the Zags as they enter the second half of league play. Mark Few didn’t have much to say postgame about the apparent injury. The team didn’t say anything at all, to tell the truth.
KenPom has Saint Mary’s as the 4th-ranked defense and the 42nd-ranked offense but that sure didn’t look the part in the 1st half of tonight’s game. As for the 2nd half, that was a completely different tale. The Gaels were continuing to get their good offensive looks but this time around, they were actually falling.
A couple of strange but true facts worth noting from tonight’s loss: Gonzaga finished with only 5 assists all night. A lot of isolation and play on the break from the Zags. Not a whole lot of sharing around the key and finding the open look (which is exactly what Saint Mary’s was doing all game long). Almost hero ball at times for the Zags.
The other fact I mentioned before is that Gonzaga gave up 9 offensive rebounds to Saint Mary’s. The second-chance opportunities were there all night for the Gaels and a big part of why they came back to grab the victory. This has been a major problem all season for the Zags and it looks like it will be continuing.
In classic fashion, Drew Timme (23 points on 8-14 FG, 5 rebounds) was operating with ease in the post but didn’t have a ton of support from the surrounding cast. You can’t just force-feed him every time down to go 1v1 in the paint. Teams will just adjust, very simple stuff.
As for that surrounding cast, Julian Strawther struggled down the stretch at crucial times (two missed free throws, two turnovers) which is uncharacteristic of him. Rasir Bolton and Anton Watson were nowhere to be found as the clock was nearing double zeroes.
A big worrying factor I have is with Hunter Sallis’ time on the floor, specifically in the late minutes. Where was he, Mark Few? Could’ve used his defensive abilities out there on Aidan Mahaney. It’s puzzling because he was doing everything in the 1st half. Drawing charges, staying locked down in front of the Saint Mary’s guards, blocking shots from behind like he was LeBron James. No way your best defensive player, one of the best in the country for that matter, should only be playing 12 minutes in an OT loss. The biggest mystery of the night.
Logan Johnson has not had a great start to this game.— Justin Reed (@JustinReed99) February 5, 2023
Hunter Sallis rejects him, landing in Bolton's hands who finds Watson for the breakaway dunk. pic.twitter.com/Raz7Cl2woB
I take my hat off to the Saint Mary’s community, the Gael Force was ready to blow the lid off the University Credit Union Pavilion in Moraga. They have reason to celebrate with their 2-game lead of 1st in the WCC standings (when was the last time the Gaels had that much space at the top in February?).
This looks to be Randy Bennett’s best team and it comes in his 22nd season under the helm. A deep March Madness run is brewing for the Gaels.
As for Gonzaga, you have some work to do if you want to move up the March seeding ladder. I sound like a broken record, but it all starts on the defensive end.
A set of tough home games are coming up for the Zags with USF in town on Thursday (2/9) at 6 PM PT on ESPN2 and BYU on Saturday (2/11) at 7 PM PT.
Arden Cravalho is a Gonzaga University graduate from the Bay Area... Follow him on Twitter @a_cravalho