Despite being eviscerated in Spokane and fading on their home floor, the Gaels looked completely up to the task up knocking off their rival and squeezing the tournament bubble. Gonzaga, for its part, looked like it was playing its first practice of the season rather than its 33rd game of an excellent season. That’s why they play the games, I guess.
Brandon Clarke (16 points) and Josh Perkins (10 points) were the only Zags who scored in double figures. Jordan Ford led all scorers with 17 points while Jordan Hunter notched a double-double and proved to be a headache all game long for Gonzaga.
Gonzaga looked nothing like the nation’s best offense in the first half as it struggled to pick apart Saint Mary’s defense following a quick 9-2 start that was not indicative of the half that was going to be played. The perimeter shooting was quite poor, going 1-7 from the arc in the first half, and the usually free flowing offense appeared to be stuck in mud. SMC’s Tanner Krebs scored 11 of his 13 points to give the Gaels a foothold in the game and ultimately a lead they would not relinquish.
The first 20 minutes played out as a slow, grinding affair with neither team edging more than two possession ahead of the other for most of the half. It was playing out exactly as Saint Mary’s could have hoped for, and the Zags were left scratching their heads and trying to force the high flying ball that they clearly prefer to play.
Things did not get any better for the Bulldogs in the second half as they continued to allow SMC to dictate the terms of engagement. Most troubling was that Norvell and Hachimura weren’t able to assert themselves into the action. Hachimura no-showed in the second half (the whole game, really) and Norvell struggled to make any positive contribution on either end of the floor which only caused him to press even more.
Gonzaga made no attempt to press or speed up Saint Mary’s tempo until the final six minutes of the game, but even then it looked like a half-hearted attempt to reverse the trainwreck the game had devolved into.
The loss is certainly a shock to the system, but if you’re looking for a silver lining at least Gonzaga got its ugly loss out of the way in this tournament rather than the next one. This team didn’t seem like it was getting complacent, but the practices will surely be a little more intense over the next week as they come to grips with their competitive mortality.
Sometimes, wake up calls can be good. Let’s hope that is the case, as the next time the Zags play a game there won’t be a next one if they lose.