Las Vegas, NV – Gonzaga looks like a No. 1 overall seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament. The Zags (30-2, 17-0) had no problem with Pepperdine (16-18, 6-11) moving out to a 40-point lead before coasting to a 100-74 win in the first semifinal game of the WCC tournament at a packed Orleans Arena. Six Zags scored in double-figures led by Zach Novell Jr.’s 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting.
Gonzaga moved the ball crisply and were very efficient on offense. They shot 59.7 percent (37-of-62) from the field including 47.8 percent (11-of-23) from long distance. They notched an impressive 26 assists on 37 made baskets. 6-8 Brandon Clarke, who is moving up in the NBA first round draft boards, scored 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting and added seven rebounds, five assists and two blocks in a limited 22 minutes in which he had a +29 point differential.
6-10 Killian Tillie made it back on the court after missing the last seven games with a foot injury. It was only Tillie’s tenth game of the season but he looked fresh making all his three shots from long distance in scoring nine points and grabbing six rebounds over 15 minutes.
Having Tillie back in the mix makes the Zags even more imposing. Adding him to a frontcourt with Clarke and Rui Hachimura (16 points) gives Gonzaga a front court that can match with anyone. However Tillie’s return will likely limit promising 6-11 freshman Filip Petrusev’s minutes. Petrusev notched 10 points tonight in ten minutes in mostly mop-up duty. 6-1 soph Colbey Ross led Pepperdine with 20 points but was forced into eight turnovers.
In the nightcap St. Mary’s (21-11, 12-5) strengthened their NCAA tournament hopes with a hard-fought 69-62 victory over San Diego (21-14, 7-10). 6-1 junior Jordan Ford led the Gaels with 21 points on 17 shot attempts. 6-8 Malik Fitts contributed 19 points, hitting 3-of-4 from deep and added 12 rebounds. Utah transfer Isaiah Wright led the Toreros with 22 points, connecting on 5-of-11 from deep. Isaiah Pineiro added 16 points and seven rebounds.
St.Mary’s held a 33-28 lead at the half but San Diego stayed close in the second half. After a Wright three-pointer the Toreros held a 48-45 lead with slightly over 12 minutes remaining. The Gaels came roaring back and scored six straight points to break a 52-52 tie. Another three-pointer by Wright closed the deficit to 62-60 with 1:20 remaining. After a Gael miss Pineiro had a chance to give San Diego the lead but missed a good look on a three-pointer from the corner. The Gaels made seven of nine free throws down the stretch to pull out the victory.
The Gaels shot efficiently throughout the contest, hitting over 50 percent of their field goal attempts in each half. They finished the game shooting 53.1 percent (26-of-49) including 5-of-11 from deep. That was slightly better than the Toreros’ 45.1 percent rate and much better than their 30.4 percent (7-of-23) shooting on three-pointers. St. Mary’s also dominated scoring in the paint by a 40-18 margin.
The Gaels face an uphill climb in tonight’s championship game, facing a heavily favored Gonzaga squad. They played twice during the regular season with the Zags winning by 48 points at home and by 14 points at St. Mary’s.