Las Vegas, NV – Perhaps Gonzaga was overconfident coming into the WCC Championship game against St. Mary’s. After all they did beat the Gaels by 48 points at home and by 14 points at Moraga during the regular season. The Bulldogs just got Killian Tillie back onto the court and were coming off a 26-point win over Pepperdine in a game they were leading by 40 points. Gonzaga was rated as the top team in the country according to the NCAA’s Net Rankings and they swept through 17 West Coast Conference games as the top scoring team in the country.
But you still need to play the game. St. Mary’s came out with a solid game plan in slowing down the pace of the game. The Gaels controlled the pace for the entire contest and limited Gonzaga to a season low in points in a shocking 60-47 win ending the nation’s longest winning streak at 21 games.. Point guard Jordan Ford was masterful in controlling the tempo of the game and led the Gaels with 17 points. Center Jordan Hunter battled inside against the Zags’ bigs all game and came away with 12 points and 15 rebounds. Brandon Clarke led Gonzaga with 16 points on an efficient 6-of-8 shooting and added a team-high eight rebounds.
St. Mary’s held a 27-24 lead at the half. Gonzaga got it to within 40-39 midway through the second half on a Killian Tillie three-pointer but they couldn’t get over the hump. After the Zags’ Corey Kispert scored to cut the lead to 42-41 the Gaels reeled off six straight points punctuated by a three-pointer by Ford and Gonzaga did not get within five points for the remainder of the game.
St. Mary’s guarded the perimeter very well, holding Gonzaga to 2-of-17 three-point shooting. The Bulldogs’ sharpshooter Zach Norvell Jr. missed all six of his three-point attempts and shot 1-of-11 overall. Point guard Josh Perkins scored 10 points but shot an inefficient 4-of-14, missed all three of his shots from distance and committed five turnovers. Rui Hachmiura was ineffective in his 34 minutes, only attempting six shots and scoring nine points. The Gaels denied him the ball and their help defense held him in check with limited opportunities.
St, Mary’s guards, Ford, Tommy Kuhse and Tanner Krebs all played the entire game. Krebs was effective in the first half, making five consecutive field goals en route 13 points, all scored in the first half.. Kuhse came up with several big second half shots and scored eight points. 6-8 Malik Fitts missed almost all of the first half after missing a defensive assignment but came on in the second half to hit two 3s and scored eight points. Hunter was big all night, controlling the defensive boards and came up with a nice block at the rim.
The Gaels held a 34-27 edge on the boards, helped by Hunter’s 15 rebounds. They didn’t shoot particularly well at 45 percent and 4-of-14 from deep but that was better than Gonzaga’s 37 percent shooting overall and 11.7 percent on three-pointers.
Gonzaga swept through the WCC regular season with 16 straight conference wins by a record 21-point average margin. St. Mary’s executed their game plan flawlessly in slowing down and defending the nation’s highest scoring team. The Gaels do not need to wait until Selection Sunday now to see if their name will be called. Gonzaga will need to wait to see if they still will be a No. 1-seed or if they will drop to a No. 2-seed.