A solid defense effort from Gonzaga helped lead the way.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs are WCC (co)-Champions for the 11th consecutive season after beating the Saint Mary’s Gaels on Saturday night in one of the most heated games of the season.
During the first half, Logan Johnson made sure the hangover from the first matchup between the two teams didn’t last. The Gaels senior guard was electric, scoring 15 points, exhausting both of his three-point attempts and carrying Saint Mary’s as best he could. Unfortunately for Johnson, that charge was a bit much for any human player, as no other Saint Mary’s player went into halftime with more than three points.
Meanwhile, on the Zags side, they did three very important things in the first half: 1) Made Aidan Mahaney irrelevant (zero points, three lost possessions, two fouls); 2) basically denying The Gaels all rebound points (one offensive rebound in total); and 3) Spread the offensive wealth. The Zags went into halftime led by Anton Watson and Malachi Smith’s eight points. Nolan Hickman was close behind with seven. Drew Timme with six and Hunter Sallis with five. The offense was death by 1,000 cuts over 20 minutes, and the Zags took a 39–26 halftime lead.
Much of that success was a product of the 3/4 pressure the Zags put on throughout the game. Although the Gaels are one of the slowest-paced teams in the country, the Zags routinely made sure that the Gaels’ attack didn’t get going until 15 seconds remained on the shot clock.
The start of the second half was a bit reminiscent of the first time in Moraga. Mahaney, after going scoreless in the first half, quickly scored eight points to put the Gaels within six minutes with 11 minutes remaining. From there to the end it was a good old fashioned dog fight.
The difference this time around is that the Zags could always keep the Gaels at a sufficient distance from an arm. Saint Mary’s threatened repeatedly, but never managed to make it to a one-ball ballgame. Much of that stemmed from the Gonzaga role players, especially after Timme, who finished with 19 points, got an early fourth foul.
Malachi Smith operated like a champ on both the offensive and defensive ends, choking Mahaney after his early eight-point burst. Smith finished with a decent 13 points, but it was largely that defensive intensity that made the difference.
Alongside him, Anton Watson played one of his best games of the season. Watson finished with 17 points, eight rebounds, three assists, a block and four steals. He made important offensive contributions and, as usual, was a defensive threat.
Those 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 attack was a bit pedestrian. Alex Ducas scored 10 and Mahaney and Joshua Jefferson added nine, but that was about it.
All in all, it was a solid win against a good Saint Mary’s team, and exactly what you’d want to see from this Gonzaga team right now. The Gaels are too good to beat by 20 points and have too many players to let the full 40 minutes slack off. Gonzaga absorbed the best punch in the gut and never faltered too far back. Before that, they will be WCC Champs for one more year.