The Gonzaga Bulldogs expected a fight when they traveled to Moraga, California, to take on the Saint Mary’s Gaels. It was a showdown with control over the West Coast Conference on the line and everyone expected it to be a tight game that came right down to the wire, as many of the Gonzaga-SMU games have in recent memory. For the first half, it was, but the Zags imposed their dominance in the second half and regained supremacy over the WCC in the process with a 77-60 win.
This was a big game for the Bulldogs. McKeon Pavilion was the site of one of their three conference losses last season, and the first of two losses to these Gaels. That allowed Saint Mary’s to end Gonzaga’s 11-year run of dominance by stealing the regular season title before taking home their second-straight tournament title as well over the Zags. Gonzaga had something to prove in this one.
But that didn’t mean Saint Mary’s was just going to hand the conference back over without a fight. The Gaels fell behind early as Gonzaga pounded the ball inside to Kelly Olynyk, who finished with 17 points, but battled back as Matthew Dellavedova shot the team back in it single-handedly. He hit three 3-pointers to rally the Gaels as part of his 19 first-half point performance to push Saint Mary’s ahead at the break 33-32.
The Zags, however, weren’t going to be denied. They came out in the second half and hit Saint Mary’s with a barrage of three-pointers, led by Gary Bell Jr.’s 20 points on 4-for-5 shooting from beyond the arc to go along with Kevin Pangos and his 18 points. The guards enjoyed a huge second half thanks to the work done down low. As Saint Mary’s collapsed on the post, it left open looks on the perimeter, particularly for Bell, and the Bulldogs took advantage.
The story of this game was the domination in the second half. Gonzaga came out of the break with a 7-0 run, sparked by a 3-pointer from Bell. Another long-range jumper from Bell and a 3-pointer from Olynyk pushed their advantage to 52-37 with just under 15 minutes to go, capping a 20-4 run that gave Gonzaga the game. The defense stepped up in a big way to fuel their run, holding Dellavedova to just three points in the second half.
The win puts Gonzaga firmly in control of the WCC and gave them a nice boost in a highly visible contest between the two most successful basketball programs on the West Coast over the last six seasons. With the victory Thursday night, Gonzaga sweeps the season series and cleared their last major hurdle towards a return to the top of the WCC.
And with the struggles of top five teams around the country recently (and this week’s blowout loss by the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines), the Bulldogs could be making a case to move up in the polls and maybe even secure a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.