The Saint Mary’s Gaels spoiled things for the Gonzaga Bulldogs a year ago, but not this time around. The Zags are back where they belong, claiming the WCC Tournament Championship with an 84-66 win over the Saint Mary’s Gaels and almost assuredly the No. 1 seed in the West Region for the NCAA Tournament.
Joel Ayayi capped off a strong WCC Tournament with 17 points and 7 rebounds and was rewarded with the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award. Gonzaga got great bench production from Drew Timme who also added 17 points to the ledger, and Admon Gilder who finished with 15 points despite starting the game without his headband. Filip Petrusev picked up a double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds, while Corey Kispert powered through some cold shooting to help the effort with 12 points. Killian Tillie battled foul trouble and finished with 9 points.
Jordan Ford continued his dominant week with another stellar performance en route to 27 points, but it wasn’t enough as the Zags bottled him up over the last 20 minutes with strong defensive adjustments.
Gonzaga opened the game in good form, taking a 15-8 lead quickly with the balanced and free flowing offensive attack that we have seen all season. The tempo and wide open play favored the Zags, but that doesn’t mean it was an easy half by any means. Randy Bennett’s leading duo of Ford and Fitts turned the screws on Gonzaga’s defense, as the duo combined to score Saint Mary’s first 34 points of the game featuring hot three-point shooting from Fitts and Ford’s entire arsenal of floaters, head bobs, scoops, and pull-up jumpers to beat every defender that Mark Few threw at him.
For a while there, it appeared that Ford and Fitts might be enough for the Gaels, but Gonzaga’s superior depth and balance would not be denied. Timme went scorched earth to close out the first half, dominating SMC’s interior defense to score 11 of Gonzaga’s last 15 points. Timme’s brilliance allowed the Bulldogs to take a narrow 42-41 lead at the break and survive the outburst from Ford and Fitts.
The back and forth continued in the second half, with Gonzaga getting off to a quick start with a 7-0 run that was met by five straight from the Gaels to close the gap again. Each time Gonzaga threatened to pull away early in the half, Saint Mary’s put together a mini-run to keep the margin within two or three possessions. But you can only plug those holes for so long before the dam finally breaks.
As Gonzaga successfully bottled up Ford and Fitts in the second half to the tune of ten points combined, the wheels started to come off for the SMC offense. The Gaels went without a field goal for over seven minutes midway through the second half as they struggled to find an answer against a feisty Gonzaga defense that made all the right adjustments and was dead set on securing a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with style.