When Gonzaga beat Saint Mary’s last month in Moraga, Calif., the Bulldogs’ offense did the heavy lifting.
In the rematch Thursday, Gonzaga’s offense and defense shared the credit as the 16th-ranked Bulldogs pulled away for an 80-61 West Coast Conference men’s basketball victory over the Gaels in front of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
After making just 3 of 12 shots to open the game, Gonzaga finished at 54.2 percent (32 of 59). Defensively, the Bulldogs clamped down on Saint Mary’s center Omar Samhan in the second half and limited his supporting cast. The Gaels made just 7 of 24 from the field in the second half and finished at 37.3 percent overall, their second-worst shooting effort of the season.
“Right now we’re playing good on both sides of the ball,” said Bulldogs head coach Mark Few. Gonzaga earned its 13th consecutive 20-win season, 11 under Few.
The victory put Gonzaga (20-4, 8-1) in the driver’s seat as it pursues its 10th consecutive WCC title. Saint Mary’s, which lost to Gonzaga 89-82 last month, is 21-4, 8-2.
Samhan had 15 points in the first half and his 10-footer evened the score at 43 with 17 minutes remaining, but the Bulldogs broke in front 52-46 after Kelly Olynyk’s layup.
The Gaels fed the ball to Samhan, whose shot was smothered by 7-foot-5 center Will Foster, drawing one of the loudest ovations of the night. Samhan pounced on the loose ball but was called for traveling. Gonzaga senior guard Matt Bouldin made a 3-pointer at the other end, part of a 9-0 run.
“He got two quick baskets on me in the first half. It got me thinking if I want to play it has to start on the defensive end,” said Foster, who finished with two blocks, two points and a rebound in nine minutes. “I stood back another step away from him. He was trying to spin off my body so I figured if I gave him a little space that would work.”
With Samhan on the bench taking a brief rest, center Robert Sacre followed up his own miss as Gonzaga’s lead grew to 59-46. Samhan re-entered the game, but Sacre rejected his shot under the basket, leading to a Bouldin bank shot and a commanding 64-50 lead with 11:40 remaining.
Aside from Samhan, who finished with 21 points but made just 2 of 7 second-half shots, the Gaels had few scoring options. Matthew Dellavedova had 9 of his 11 points in the first half. Clint Steindl made three 3-pointers and added nine points.
“Our guard play has to be better,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “They did a good job defensively and we were impatient. We have to get better if we’re going to play a team that’s good defensively. We have to be more disciplined. We turned it over and our shot selection was not good in the second half.”
Gaels point guard Mickey McConnell, who averages 13.8 points and 5.3 assists, didn’t score and was limited to three assists. Two of his four turnovers were errant passes picked off by Elias Harris, who converted both into baskets as Gonzaga pulled away in the second half.
“The scouting report said he’s a driver and he tries to find the open man,” said Harris, who scored a team-high 19 points. “I knew he was going to throw it somewhere and I was lucky two times to be in the right spot.”
Bouldin scored 18 points, grabbed five rebounds and had a team-high four assists. Sacre delivered 13 points, six boards and three of GU’s 11 steals. Demetri Goodson and Steven Gray each had eight points and reserve forward Bol Kong added seven.
Gonzaga capitalized on 17 SMC turnovers with 22 points. The Bulldogs owned a 48-20 edge on points in the paint.
“They have a lot of great players, but I definitely think we have more threats offensively,” Bouldin said. “That’s one of the strong points of this team. When they’re really trying to focus on keeping the ball from Elias or Steve or me, we have other options.”
The Bulldogs trailed 12-4 early before their offense started clicking. Kong’s 3-pointer tied it at 16 with 9:16 left in the first half and his layup gave the Bulldogs their first lead. The teams traded baskets or free throws until Ben Allen’s 3 evened it at 36 with 8 seconds left. After a timeout, Bouldin created some open space and drained a long 3-pointer just before the buzzer, giving GU a 39-36 lead.