Well I got my nap in last night and awoke in time for the start of the St Mary's - Gonzaga game last night on ESPN2. Once again St Mary's, "The Brooklyn Dodgers" of the West Coast Conference as ESPN analyst Stephen Bardo put them, lost to the New York Yankess of the WCC, Gonzaga 80-61 last night in Spokane. Despite the Associated Press noting in their recap that it was "a surprisingly easy 80-61 win", if you watched the entire game, you will know it was anything but easy for the first 20 minutes. It was the second half where Gonzaga rolled.
St Mary's came out of the gate like Rachel Alexandra at the Preakness as the Gaels went out to a 12-4 lead. Matthew Dellavedova and Omar "Enter the Sandman" Samhan combined to score ten of the twelve St Mary's points. The Zags slowly chipped away at the lead and tied the game at 16 on a Bol Kong three pointer with 8:51 left. Kong would then follow with a layup and give Gonzaga their first lead of the game. The Zags would extend the lead to 22-18 before the Gaels came back with a 9-1 run to go back ahead 27-23 as again Dellavedova and Samhan combined for eight of the nine Gaels points.
The teams would go back and forth the remainder of the first half. The Gaels' Ben Allen would hit a three with thirteen seconds to tie the game at 36. After looking a little discombobulated on the offensive end, Gonzaga called timeout with five seconds left. It looked like St Mary's might enter the half with the game tied. But off the timeout, Matt Bouldin hit a big time step back three with one second left on the clock and the Zags lead 39-36 at the half. It had to be a huge boost of confidence for Gonzaga while it must have been equally demoralizing for St Mary's.
St Mary's though had done a very good job of getting Samhan involved early in this game. In their first game in Moraga, Samhan had only six first half points as the Gaels trailed by 12 at the half and never could dig out of that first half hole (Samhan would score 25 second half points in that game). In last night's first half, Samhan had 14 points on five of nine shooting. But Gonzaga matched Samhan by shooting 16 of 29 from the field in the first half as Robert Sacre scored 10 points on 5 of 7 shooting.
The second half started out looking like much of the first half. The game was tied at 43 with about three and half minutes in when Gonzaga's Demetri Goodson hit a layup to put the Zags up for good 45-43 with 16:36 left. The Gaels tried to keep the game close and Omar Samhan's free throw kept St Mary's within four, 50-46 with 15:15 left. But then Gonzaga went on a 11-2 over the next two and a half minutes as the Zags forced three Gaels turnovers during that span. When Matt Bouldin ended the run with a two point jumper, the score was 61-48 Gonzaga and the rout was on.
Just like the first game at Moravia, St Mary's had no answer for Bouldin and Elias Harris. The duo combined for 25 second half points on 1o of 15 shooting. And it was also an excellent defensive half for the Zags. Gonzaga forced ten Gaels turnovers in the second half and scored 14 points off those turnovers. Samhan was held to seven second half points on 2 of 7 shooting, while Dellavedova was held to two points on 0 of 2 shooting.
But the best example of Gonzaga's terrific defense was the job they did on the Gaels' Mickey McConnell. McConnell entered the game as the Gaels second leading scorer, averaging over 13 points per game. Last night, the Zags pitched a shutout on McConnell, who went scoreless while attempting only five field goal attempts. Finally, the Gaels, one of the best three point shooting teams in the country, were held to 6 of 20 shooting from beyond the arc.
Harris led the Zags with 19 points, while Bouldin added 18 points and Sacre had 13. The Zags shot 54 percent from the field and had 11 steals. Samhan did have his usual double double for the Gaels with 21 points and 11 rebounds, but Dellavedova ended up with only 11 points. It was Gonzaga's sixth consecutive win vs. St Mary's in what is starting to become as Bardo put it a "Yankees-Brooklyn Dodgers" rivalry (which if you know your baseball history was mostly a one sided affair).
The game again showed that the Gaels are a perimeter/kick it to Samhan team on offense. They sorely miss Patty Mills' ability to take his man one on one and drive the lane. St Mary's does not have a player that can pressure a defense like that. Thus the Zags were able to sag in on Samhan or to closely guard the Gaels' perimeter shooters.
Finally, I love watching the WCC games when Bardo is doing the color analysis. He had some gem comments last night. First, describing how Gonzaga's bad free throw shooting could affect them in the NCAA Tournament, Bardo noted "Some things that don't last too long are dogs that chase cars and teams that can't shoot free throws."
Then later on, a Gonzaga player got a foul for trying to steal a ball away from a Gaels player. Bardo noted, when someone is holding a ball out in the open, "It's like hot cookies on a plate", meaning you can't resist and thus get yourself in trouble. Play by play man Bob Wischusen then followed up with "Now you are talking my language." Like I said about the Bob Carpenter Center food selection, "seriously is there anything better than hot chocolate chip cookies?" I see Wischusen agrees.
A couple of final notes on last night's game. If you don't think Gonzaga is one of the best sixteen teams in the country, you really need to start paying closer attention. They have a terrific duo in Boldin and Harris and you can't sleep on Sacre inside. Plus they have enough depth for a large run in the tournament. As Bardo noted to Wischusen late in the game, outside of Kansas, Syracuse, Villanova and Kentucky, there is no other team that Gonzaga would not want to face in their bracket region. And I think you will see Gonzaga play their first two NCAA games in Spokane.
As for St Mary's, this puts them squarely on the bubble. As I stated in my previous post yesterday, they really needed a BracketBuster game this season. They only have four losses, two of which are to Gonzaga, one to likely NCAA team Vanderbilt (and that two point loss at home could come back to haunt the Gaels) and a loss to a decent USC team. They do have that impressive 8-1 road record in their favor. And they do have a road win over WAC leading Utah State, a neutral site win over CAA leading Northeastern and the home pasting of San Diego State. But none of those teams are in the Top 25. St Mary's may need to win the WCC tournament (and likely face Gonzaga again in the final) to punch a ticket to the dance.