In a dominant 79-56 win in The Kennel, the Gonzaga Bulldogs let Saint Mary’s know as clearly as possible that last season was an aberration, and there’s a clear top dog in the WCC.
Four of Gonzaga’s newcomers, transfers Nigel Williams-Goss (19 points, 6 assists), Jordan Mathews (16 points, 4-6 3PT), Johnathan Williams (14 points, 5 blocks, 5 rebounds), and freshman Zach Collins (10 points, 4 rebounds) led the way for the Zags in their first taste of the rivalry. Saint Mary’s leading scorer on the season, Jock Landale, scored 10 points but played limited minutes before fouling out.
This contest was billed as the must-see game in a packed Saturday around college basketball, and it certainly delivered (especially for Gonzaga fans).
With The Kennel rocking following the early return of many students from their holiday break, and the early portions of the game a mostly back-and-forth affair, we had all the makings of a classic.
When Jock Landale sat down at the 14:24 mark in the first half with his second foul, and the Zags up by 6, it looked like the situation was ripe for Gonzaga to pull away early. However, even though Saint Mary’s talisman found himself rooted to the bench for the remainder of the half, the Gaels were able to make a run en route to a 27-23 lead which would be their largest lead of the game. Unfortunately for the Gaels, there were 28 minutes left in the game, and from that point on it was essentially all Gonzaga.
The Zags closed the first half with a 12-2 run that featured perhaps the team’s best defensive stretch of the season. Johnathan Williams, Silas Melson, and Zach Collins helped lock down Saint Mary’s efficient attack, and the Zags simply outworked their foes to retake the lead and enter the break with a 43-34 lead.
But, this was still a rivalry game, and you knew that Saint Mary’s would push back in the final 20 minutes, particularly with Josh Perkins status for the rest of the game up in the air following a leg injury in the first half.
Landale returned from his foul-imposed exile and scored six straight points for the Gaels early in the second half as Saint Mary’s narrowed the gap to four points. But, that was as close as things would get as Gonzaga imposed its will on SMC for the remainder of the night.
Nigel Williams-Goss has filled the role of closer all season, and once again he seemed to sense the moment when it was time for him to take over and propel the Zags to victory. He launched Gonzaga’s closing 21-2 run with a flurry of baskets, and, coupled with Gonzaga’s intense defensive pressure, Saint Mary’s was left with no answers as the game got away from them.
Landale, who has been SMC’s rock for most of the season, didn’t help matters with his interesting approach to defending the perimeter which saw him pick up two more fouls within a minute of each other halfway through the second half. After a quick seat on the bench, Randy Bennett ran his star big man back out there to try and stop the bleeding, but Landale seemed dead set on fouling out, and so he did. The rest was history.
After the performance the Zags put forth for a national audience, any remaining questions about whether this team deserves its Top 5 ranking should be put to bed. And, if there’s still any doubt about who the best team in the conference is, these two teams will play again in Moraga on February 11.