For the first time in six years and the fifth in program history, the Gonzaga Bulldogs are undefeated in regular season conference play thanks to a 69-55 win over the Saint Mary’s Gaels. The Bulldogs have done it convincingly, too, as every single conference game was decided by double digits.
Josh Perkins led Gonzaga in scoring with 19 points, while Rui Hachimura (17 points, 8 rebounds) and Brandon Clarke (15 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks) combined for 32. Jordan Ford had 19 points for the Gaels.
In contrast to the first game between these teams in Spokane, this game was actually competitive for 30 minutes!
Saint Mary’s tried to set the tone early by going into the paint on their first three offensive possession, only to come up empty each time. Gonzaga pulled ahead to an 11-2 lead, and then took a little break from offensive excellence over the next 15-20 minutes of game time. The Gaels weren’t exactly lighting the world on fire themselves, but they did put together a good stretch in the middle of the first half to pull ahead 23-19.
Gonzaga’s offense struggled to find its flow, and the ball failed to move as crisply and cleanly as has become the norm for much of the season. Gonzaga still shot over 50% from the field in the first half, but nothing in the half court came easy. Things got even more difficult when Clarke was relegated to the bench for the final 7:36 of the first due to foul trouble, but fortunately Perkins and Hachimura were able to shoulder the burden as they combined for 24 of Gonzaga’s 36 points at the break.
The Zags held a narrow two point lead at halftime, but it honestly never felt like they were in danger of losing the game. Clarke marked his escape from foul purgatory with a pair of thunderous dunks, and his presence allowed Gonzaga to re-establish control of the paint at both ends of the floor.
While the Gaels didn’t wilt right away, eventually the (Brandon Clarke) heat got to them. Clarke was an absolute wrecking ball in the second half. When he wasn’t dunking on Saint Mary’s, which was often, he was busy hosting a block party at the other end.
After a Tanner Krebs layup cut Gonzaga’s lead down to three at 47-44, consecutive layups by Perkins and Norvell sparked a run that carried the Zags all the way to a 20-point lead and allowed them to cruise for the rest of the evening.
Thanks to Hachimura’s first half, Clarke’s second half, and Perkins orchestrating it all like a masterful conductor, Gonzaga has all but secured a #1 seed it the NCAA Tournament while simultaneously snuffing out any faint hope that Saint Mary’s had of going dancing in March. That’s a good day’s work if you ask me.