I am beat today. I normally don't stay up till 1 in the morning, but last night I had a good reason. St Mary's - Gonzaga. Two ranked West Coast Conference teams undefeated in conference, battling for first. How I could say no?
It started off with an early Gonzaga run. Before you blinked, it was 10-3 Zags, as Matt Bouldin was showing the country and ESPN's Steven Bardo how good he is (Jeremy Pargo and Austin Daye get most of the props but Bouldin is just as good). The Gaels looked nervous. Turned the ball over at least five times in the first few minutes. Then St Mary's got their composure and started getting some baskets as they worked it inside to Diamon Simpson and Omar Samhan. Then Patty Mills got hot. Real hot. Mills hit five three pointers in the span of six minutes as the Gaels overtook the Bulldogs and led 29-21 with six minutes left in the first half. Mills would hit his last basket of the game, another three pointer, with four minutes left in the first half.
During this time, it was evident that Mills was opening up the inside for Simpson and Samhan. Simpson, who I thought played the best game I had seen him play all season, was dominating Austin Daye inside. Daye had no answer for the bigger, stronger and even seemingly more athletic Simpson. The ball movement for St Mary's was crisp as they moved the ball inside and around the perimeter. Mills opened up everything for the Gaels. And St Mary's was playing very solid defense, shutting down Jeremy Pargo and Austin Daye, who combined only had seven points at the half.
Then Mills drove to the basket with three minutes left and fell. He tried to break his fall by putting out his hand. He left the game with a sprained wrist. But the Gaels held serve and were up 39-33 at the end of a very entertaining first half. However, during the shoot around before the second half, it was evident Mills couldn't play the rest of the game. And the Bulldogs smelled blood.
Early on in the second half, St Mary's did their best to hold on. But Gonzaga wisely collapsed inside on Samhan and Simpson, while putting ball pressure on the less experienced sophomore point guard Mickey McConnell. The Gaels now seemed incapable of getting a post pass in and were forced to shoot three point shots, very few of which they could make. Gonzaga has too many weapons to hold down for so long. Between Steven Gray hitting long jumpers, Austin Daye and Matt Bouldin scoring inside and Jeremy Pargo (now free from Mills hounding him) hitting baskets, Gonzaga would pull even at 48 with 12 and half minutes left. After McConnell missed another shot, an alley oop pass dunk by Micah Downs put the Zags up to stay 50-48. It was part of a 12-0 run by Gonzaga which resulted in a 58-48 lead. Game over.
A few things to note. First, I have stated this before, but Terry Gannon and Stephen Bardo are one of my favorite announce teams. Bardo correctly pointed out a few things. First Josh Heytvelt was often MIA in the game and was not very aggressive in the post. He was content to take long jumpers at times and basically Bardo accurately described him as an enigma. Second Matt Bouldin is the best player on Gonzaga. He is just absolutely solid and really does have a NBA build. Bardo thinks he will have a long NBA career and I can't disagree. Third, while Mills was in the game, he absolutely dominated Pargo. He was too quick for Pargo, can bury a three from NBA range and passes the ball real well. A terrific point guard and you can see why he was able to put 20 points on the US Olympic Team as a member of the Australian team. Fourth, Diamon Simpson had a terrific game, 17 points, 13 rebounds and didn't miss a shot. Seven for Seven from the field. The problem was that Gonzaga collapsed on Simpson and Samhan, and they only had 13 attempts combined (though they did make 11 of them).
A bigger problem which Bardo addressed was that the post pass is a lost art. St Mary's was very reluctant to pass the ball in the post in the second half. When they did, they threw a lot of sloppy passes into the post. The Gaels are not the only team guilty of this. Watching the Hofstra guards try to pass the ball into the post is like sitting in a dentist's chair.
So where do these teams go from here. Gonzaga has San Diego at home tomorrow, then at Portland (more on that in a second) and then a big home game with Memphis on February 7th before the rematch at St Mary's on Feb. 12. St Mary's road is now more uncertain with Mills' injury. He is supposed to get Xrays/MRI today to determine the extent of the injury. It is pretty safe to say that they will be without him when they travel to play Portland on Saturday. Portland is 4-1 in the WCC and 14-7 overall. They just smoked San Diego and they have beaten Washington and Nevada this season. In other words, not an easy game. I don't think St Mary's loss affects their standing as far as the Bracket Buster Matchups. I think ESPN will certainly take into account that they were ahead of Gonzaga before Mills got hurt. The question will be, will Mills be back for the rematch against Gonzaga let alone the Bracket Buster game on the 21st.