A strong Gonzaga defensive effort helped lead the way.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs are the WCC (co)-Champions for the 11th straight season after defeating Saint Mary’s Gaels on Saturday night in one of the hottest matches of the season,
During the first half, Logan Johnson made sure the hangover from the first game between the two teams didn’t linger. The Gaels’ senior guard was electric, scoring 15 points, draining both of his three attempts, and holding St. Mary’s as best he could. Unfortunately for Johnson, that burden was too much for any human player, considering no other St. Mary’s player ever went into the first half with more than three points.
Meanwhile, at the Zags’ end, they did three very important things in the first half: 1) make Aidan Mahaney irrelevant (zero points, three turnovers, two fouls); 2) essentially denying the Gaels any second chance points (one offensive rebound overall); and 3) spread offensive wealth. The Zags went into halftime, led by Anton Watson and eight points by Malachy Smith. Nolan Hickman was just behind him, with seven. Drew Timm with six and Hunter Sallis with five. The offense was death by 1,000 cuts for 20 minutes, and the Zags led 39-26 with a halftime lead.
Much of this success was a product of the 3/4 pressing that the Zags applied throughout the game. Although the Gaels are one of the slower-paced teams in the country, the Zags made sure that the Gaels’ offense would not routinely start until there were 15 seconds left 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 period, scored eight quick points to help the Giles to within six with 11 minutes left in the game. From there, it was a good costume dogfight until the very end.
The difference this time is that the Zags have always been able to keep the gallis at a sufficient distance of arm’s length. St. Mary’s threatened repeatedly but was unable to bring it into the ball game on one possession. A lot of that stemmed from the Gonzaga players, especially after Timmy, who finished with 19 points, fouled an early fourth.
Malachi Smith served as a champ on both the offensive and defensive end, choking Mahaney after his early eight-point burst. Smith finished with a ranking 13 points, but it was defensive strength that pretty much made the difference.
Along with him, Anton Watson had one of the best matches of the season. Watson finished with 17 points, eight rebounds, three assists, one block and four steals. He made key offensive contributions and was a defensive threat as usual.
These guys were the difference. Logan Johnson was exceptional, scoring 27 points, driving relentlessly on the Zaggs, and attempting 15 (!!!) free throws. Outside of Johnson, however, the rest of the Gaels’ offense is a little pedestrian. Alex Ducasse scored 10 and Mahaney and Joshua Jefferson added nine, but that was about it.
All in all, it was a gutsy win over a good St. Mary’s team, which is exactly what you would like to see from this Gonzaga team at this point in time. Gaels are too good to beat with 20 points and have way too many players to wilt for a full 40 minutes. Gonzaga sucked the best punch in the gut and never faltered. For that, they will be WCC champions for another year.
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