This is set to be the biggest Game of the WCC season and that’s why it’s the finale. St. Mary’s maybe hasn’t had the season it wanted, but it’s managed to be near the top of the standings with hopes of knocking off the giant. When these teams met less than a month ago in Spokane, it was ugly. Gonzaga jumped to a 14-2 lead and never looked back, winning by a ridiculous 94-46 margin. The Bulldogs welcomed the expected best competition in the Conference to their cOurt and immediately sent them packing within minutes.
There’s no doubt this Game will be different, at least in terms of not being a nearly 50-point win. For starters, Gonzaga doesn’t blow out everyone on the road, beating San Fran by 13 points, LMU by 13 and San Diego by 12. Those Games were at least competitive and that’s the hope for this one, the most hyped Conference Game of the season. St. Mary’s is also much better at home already seen in matchups against BYU, winning by 22 at home, but losing on the road. It’s hard to look at the underlying numbers between these teams because Gonzaga dominates just about every category in the conference, so it’s best to dive into the previous meeting and the matchups.
As seen in the score, nothing went right for Gaels in that first Game as they were a miserable 1-for-13 from three and 14-for-45 inside the arc. Throw in Gonzaga’s 8-for-18 from deep and 27-for-42 from close range and it’s easy to see why the Game ended like it did. It also didn’t help that the Bulldogs had a better offensive rebounding percentage, meaning the few shots they missed, they eventually rebounded.
This isn’t the same St. Mary’s team as previous years, but it should be better than a 48-point loss. The problem is that only two players do most of the scoring between Jordan Ford (21.8 ppg) and Malik Fitts (15.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg). That’s fine against most in the WCC, but against better teams in the country, those guys draw all the attention and struggle against more skilled and athletic players. Ford was better in these matchups last year, but that was when he was an x-factor, the third-best scorer on the team. Now, the 42.7% three-point shooter gets the full attention of Zach Norvell and Josh Perkins on the perimeter and that led to just one three pointer in the first Game. It was a similar case for Fitts, who had to go against Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke.
To have a chance of at least covering, the Gaels need everyone to step up including Tanner Krebs, Tommy Kuhse and Jordan Hunter. Ford and Fitts will get the attention so the other guys have to do something. Krebs is the x-factor this season, though he had just Four points in the first Game. He averages 8.7 points per Game and shoots better than 40 percent from deep.
Of course, you can’t win without playing good defense and St. Mary’s goal will be to slow things down, limiting the easy fast breaks and open looks for the Zags. The Bulldogs are better at every position, but you can’t give up free looks in the paint on every possession. Hachimura, Clarke and Filip Petrusev combined for 57 points in that first Game and only missed seven shots. Petrusev only plays when it’s a complete blowout so him scoring 15 points is a bit unacceptable. While Norvell and Perkins will get their buckets when needed, the biggest thing for St. Mary’s will be to limit what Hachimura and Clarke can do in the paint. That task falls to Fitts, Jordan Hunter and Matthias Tass. All of them have size, but Hunter was the only one to get into foul trouble. To have a chance, the Gaels have to body up around the basket and if they don’t, it could be another blowout. Either way, given the first result, there won’t be much money on the home team.
Our Pick – Gonzaga -8.5