Moraga, CA – No. 11-ranked Saint Mary’s and No.12 Gonzaga squared off in the highest ranking matchup between the two WCC teams Saturday night. After Saint Mary’s went to Spokane and got a rare road win last month, the stakes were set for Saint Mary’s to accomplish a rare WCC feat and beat Gonzaga twice. The sell-out crowd at McKeon pavilion was fired up prior to tip-off, but that’s as loud as they got all night.
Gonzaga jumped out to a 24-8 lead to start the game and took the air out of the home crowd right away. The Zags held a comfortable double-digit lead to go on and win 78-65 and snap Saint Mary’s 19-game win streak.
After Saint Mary’s big man Jock Landale overpowered the Zags with 26 points in their last meeting, Gonzaga opted to double team him Saturday night to outstanding success. The Zags stifled the Gaels defensively with the Landale double-team and the Gaels never really figured it out. Landale finished with four points on only four shots and Saint Mary’s finished with their worst offensive rating (101.6) of the season.
The Zags forced the Gaels into taking second choice shots and forced pass-first Emmett Naar into becoming a shooter. Naar finished 2-of-9 from the field with five points and a low two assists.
Saint Mary’s got a couple of rim cuts off Gonzaga’s double teams, leading to Landale’s four assists, but overall Saint Mary’s failed to attack a scrambling Gonzaga defense and let the Zags dictate tempo. Saint Mary’s starting four outside of Jordan Ford only scored a combined 20 points. The Gaels were led in scoring by guard Cullen Neal, who scored 18 efficient points off the bench in 16 minutes. Ford finished with 17 points. Saint Mary’s struggled from deep, hitting 5-of-20 (25%) three-point shots, their second worst shooting night from distance on the season.
Gonzaga showed their strength tonight as one of the bigger and well-balanced teams in the country. The Zags collection of size up front overpowered the Gaels. Rui Hachimura matched his season high of 23 points in a dominant offensive display. Hachimura, one of the best sixth men in the country, was too much for Saint Mary’s’ smaller forwards. Hachimura was 10-of-14 from the field and was comfortable attacking off the swing, using either hand in the post, and hitting face-up shots.
Zach Norvell Jr. had 17 points with three 3’s and seven rebounds in a very solid overall outing, contributing in many ways. Josh Perkins managed the game very well in a game where Gonzaga only turned it over four times. Perkins finished with 13 points and five assists and hit a big baseline shot to stave off a second half Saint Mary’s run. Johnathan Williams was terrific on the glass and around the rim showing his athleticism and motor in the paint. He finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
These two teams will likely play out their rubber match in the WCC finals in Las Vegas March 6th.
Gonzaga gets Loyola Marymount at home and Saint Mary’s looks to bounce back at San Francisco Thursday.
Rui Hachimura – Hachimura, a sophomore, has posted his best scoring outings of the season against Saint Mary’s. He was very efficient Saturday, showing anticipation of his opportunities and displaying guard-like fluidity. He guarded Saint Mary’s point guard, Naar (though Naar isn’t very quick), he used his left hand very well and showed excellent touch. He looks like he’s becoming more and more comfortable on the court. He did a great job getting post position and he has very long strides in transition. It is worth noting that when Saint Mary’s finally subbed in a big of equal size in Jordan Hunter down the stretch, Hachimura wasn’t as effective. He appears taller than the 6-8 listed with an even longer wingspan.
Zach Norvall Jr.- The redshirt freshman had a solid performance, proving he’s more than a spot-up shooter. The 6-5 lefty was aggressive and tough on the offensive glass and showed great playmaking ability and vision out of the pick and roll. He looked comfortable shooting off the dribble and his quick release helps get his shot off with little separation. He’s an interesting prospect if he can improve his ball-handling.
Josh Perkins – Perkins play doesn’t scream out at you but he is a very good game managing point guard. What stood out the most was his ability to get around ball screens on defense. He anticipates and maneuvers well, stalling the pick and roll and forcing the offense into their second option. His handle is elite and his ability to shoot off the dribble is a skill that can translate well to a professional level.
This article was written by Will Winston, a correspondent and scout for NetScouts Basketball. You can follow us on Facebook, or on twitter. We are looking for those interested in our basketball scout certification program. For information contact us and forward your resume.