MORAGA, Calif. (AP) — By forcing the ball out of Jock Landale’s hands, Gonzaga was able to avenge a home loss to Saint Mary’s and move back into first place in the West Coast Conference.
Rui Hachimura scored 23 points and was a key part of a defensive effort that neutralized Landale as the 12th-ranked Bulldogs ended the nation’s longest active winning streak at 19 games with a 78-65 victory over the 11th ranked Gaels on Saturday night.
Landale made 12 of 15 shots in Saint Mary’s win at Gonzaga last month but was held to just four shots and two baskets because of relentless double teams right from the start in the rematch,
“When they came in our gym they stole one from us at home,” guard Josh Perkins said. “We just wanted to come out of the gate at the get go and set the tone and I think we did that.”
The Bulldogs (23-4, 13-1) jumped on the Gaels (24-3, 13-1) early and never trailed, making 3-pointers on the first three trips and showing off a defensive wrinkle by sending double teams at Landale as soon as he got the ball in the post.
That strategy only worked because of the way Gonzaga recovered to prevent 3-pointers, holding the Gaels to 5 for 20 from long range.
“We wanted to give a different look with the doubles and where they were coming from,” coach Mark Few said. “Our guys did a great job. The doubles are actually the easy part of it. It’s rotating out of it that’s difficult, especially when they put four other guys on the floor who can shoot 3s.”
Zach Norvell Jr. scored 15 points and Johnathan Williams added 12 points and 11 rebounds for Gonzaga.
Cullen Neal scored 18 and Jordan Ford added 17 to lead Saint Mary’s.
Hachimura converted sweeping layups on back-to-back trips early in the second half, adding a foul shot on one of the plays, to help Gonzaga open up a 20-point lead.
Gonzaga raced out to a 22-5 lead, quieting an overflow crowd that turned out for the first matchup of two top 15 teams in WCC history. The Gaels responded and cut the deficit to seven before going into the half down 42-30.
“They came out and kind of just hit us in the mouth,” Ford said. “They got a big lead on us early, and after that it was kind of hard for us to get back.”
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs showed they are still the top dog in the conference by dominating the Gaels on their home floor for their 22nd straight conference road win. They also improved to 6-0 all-time against Saint Mary’s when both teams are ranked, which could happen again in the teams meet in the WCC championship game next month.
Saint Mary’s: The Gaels hadn’t lost since dropping back-to-back contests to Washington State and Georgia during a tournament in Anaheim on Thanksgiving weekend. They came into the game leading the nation by shooting 52.8 percent from the field but were taken out of their game offensively with Landale getting no shots in the half-court offense in the first 26 minutes and the team shooting just 41.5 percent overall.
“As soon as it touched my hands I had two guys on top of me,” Landale said. “This team’s not about me. I don’t have to score every possession, and tonight I didn’t. We’ve had games like that where I don’t. But we’ve got to find ways to make those shots count that we get from the perimeter.”