Gonzaga defeats Saint Marys to win a piece of WCC

Gonzaga defeats Saint Mary’s to win a piece of WCC championship for 11th straight year – The Slipper Fits Still

The Gonzaga Bulldogs are WCC (Co)Champions for the 11th straight season after beating the Saint Mary’s Gaels in one of the most heated games of the season on Saturday night.

In the first half, Logan Johnson made sure that the hangover from the first matchup between the two teams didn’t last. The Gaels leading guard were electrified, scoring 15 points, consuming both of his three attempts to score and carrying Saint Mary’s as best he could. Unfortunately for Johnson, that strain was a bit much for any human player considering not a single other Saint Mary’s player went into halftime with more than three points.

Meanwhile, the Zags did three very important things in the first half: 1) rendered Aidan Mahaney irrelevant (zero points, three turnovers, two fouls); 2) essentially deny the Gaels all second chance points (an offensive rebound overall); and 3) Spread the offensive wealth. The Zags went into halftime led by Anton Watson and Malachi Smith’s eight points. Nolan Hickman was just behind with seven. Drew Timme at six and Hunter Sallis at five. The offense was death by 1,000 cuts for 20 minutes, and the Zags went into halftime with a 39-26 lead.

Much of that success was a product of the 3/4 pressure the Zags maintained throughout the game. Despite the Gaels being one of the slowest paced teams in the nation, the Zags made sure the Gaels offense routinely didn’t start until 15 seconds were left on the shot clock.

The start in the second half was a bit reminiscent of the first time in Moraga. Mahaney, after being goalless in the first half, scored a quick eight points to take the Gaels to six with eleven minutes remaining. It was good old-fashioned dogfighting from there to the end.

The difference this time is that the Zags have always been able to keep the Gaels at just enough distance. Saint Mary’s made repeated threats but could never make it to a one-possession ballgame. Much of that came from the Gonzaga rolers, especially after Timme, who ended on 19 points, caught an early fourth foul.

Malachi Smith acted like a champ on both offense and defense, choking Mahaney after his early eight-point breakout. Smith finished with a solid 13 points, but it was that defensive intensity above all that made the difference.

Alongside him, Anton Watson had one of the best games of the season. Watson finished the tournament with 17 points, eight rebounds, three assists, one block and four steals. He made important offensive contributions and was a defensive threat as usual.

These role players were the difference. Logan Johnson was phenomenal, scoring 27 points and riding the Zags relentlessly, attempting 15 (!!!) free throws. Outside of Johnson, however, the rest of the Gaels offense has been a bit dull. Alex Ducas scored 10 and Mahaney and Joshua Jefferson added nine, but that was about it.

All in all it was a tough win against a good Saint Mary’s team and exactly what you want from this Gonzaga team at this point. The Gaels are too good to beat by 20 points and have too many players to dwindle for a full 40 minutes. Gonzaga absorbed the best gut punch and never staggered back too far. In return, they will be WCC champions for another year.

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