In recent years the rivalry between Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga has developed into one of the best in the western United States, with the combination of skilled players and high stakes resulting in intense match-ups whether the game was being played during the regular season or WCC tournament. Thursday night the two programs met in Spokane with matching 7-0 conference records, and with Brad Waldow serving as their anchor in the post the Gaels are the biggest threat to Gonzaga’s quest to win yet another WCC regular season title.
But after Waldow accounted for ten points and five rebounds in the game’s first 20 minutes, keeping Saint Mary’s well within striking distance, the senior power forward was kept in check by the Gonzaga big men and the Bulldogs eventually won by the final score of 68-47.
Saint Mary’s may have shot a slightly higher percentage in the second half than they did in the first, but a lot of that damage was done early and with their primary scoring option neutralized the Gaels struggled mightily as the half wore on. Mark Few’s team shot 52.9% from the field on the night, with Kevin Pangos leading three players in double figures with 14 points while also dishing out five assists, and they limited Saint Mary’s to 36 percent shooting.
Against Waldow (14 points, 6-for-13 FG) the Bulldogs mixed things up defensively, sometimes defending him with a single player and in other spots sending over a second big to double Waldow. With Przemek Karnowski, Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer (they combined for 30 points and 31 rebounds) at his disposal, Few is able to defend a big man of Waldow’s caliber in multiple ways. With Waldow less effective, the Bulldogs were able to put together a 19-2 second half run that removed any doubt as to which team would win the game.
While Gonzaga has always been praised for its ability to put points on the board, the strides made defensively the last two years have been overlooked by some. This isn’t a group that’s going to rack up the “glamour” stats that tend to be referenced when the nation’s best defenses are discussed, as they’re in the middle of the pack nationally in both steals and blocks per game.
But they’re solid when it comes to positioning and limiting quality looks, forcing opponents to make contested shots more often than not. That’s resulted in Gonzaga leading the WCC in field goal percentage defense (38.4%) and trailing only Pepperdine in three-point percentage defense (30.6%). Thursday night, in addition to their 36 percent night from the field Saint Mary’s mad just two of its 15 three-pointers with guard Aaron Bright going scoreless on 0-for-7 shooting (0-for-5 3PT).
Thursday’s game can be viewed as Saint Mary’s missing out on an opportunity to bolster their resume with a win over the best team they’ve faced to date. But this was about Gonzaga, with the Bulldogs taking away Saint Mary’s best offensive option in the second half and handing the Gaels their biggest defeat of the season.