MORAGA, Calif. – At one point, Jock Landale, frustrated by yet another successful Gonzaga double team, simply turned to the ref and called for a timeout.
Emmett Naar, Saint Mary’s all-time assists leader, was reduced to being a spectator on the bench for most of the second half, completely ineffective against the Zags’ defense.
The 12th-ranked Zags shut down one of the nation’s most efficient offenses and they did nearly as much damage at the other end of the court in an impressive 78-65 victory in front of an overflow crowd of 3,500 on Saturday night at McKeon Pavilion.
Gonzaga avenged a 74-71 loss to the Gaels in Spokane, ended their program-record 19-game winning streak and joined 11th-ranked Saint Mary’s at the top the WCC standings. GU (23-4) and SMC (24-3) are both 13-1 in conference with four games left in the regular season.
“Coming into a really tough environment against a really good team on a roll, it’s obviously a great accomplishment for the guys and a good sign for the team,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “We led that thing in Spokane for 35 minutes. The guys were a little upset we didn’t finish it off. I think that was probably on their minds.”
GU dominated from start to finish, so much so that some Gaels fans began heading for the exits early in the second half.
The Zags did it with a red-hot start that put the Gaels in an early hole they never recovered from in the first WCC matchup of top 15 teams.
They did it by constantly double-teaming Landale, the runaway favorite for WCC player of the year and an All-American candidate. From there, the Zags were precise with their rotations, coving up shooters or cutters when the big man was forced to pass.
Landale had one shot and one bucket in the first half. He took three shots and made one field goal in the second. His four points were a season-low and 20 below his average in conference games.
Gonzaga tried doubling Landale on occasion in Spokane but ended up paying when the Gaels’ hit 3-pointers on kick-out passes. Landale had four assists in the rematch but committed three turnovers.
“We came (to double) as soon as he caught the ball,” said Johnathan Williams, when asked why the tactic was more effective this time. “Team effort. We all contributed to guarding him.”
Naar missed all six of his first-half shots. His first basket came with 16:30 remaining. He finished with five points and two assists.
“It was a heck of a defensive night,” senior guard Silas Melson said. “In the first half he took like three layups it looked like he didn’t want to take. We were switching matchups, being aggressive with him.”
Gonzaga took control from the opening tip. The Zags’ 3-point shooting has faded of late but they came out with triples by Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Zach Norvell Jr.
Then they went inside. Williams and Rui Hachimura combined for 22 points in the opening half with Hachimura taking advantage of a mismatch at power forward against Tanner Krebs early, Evan Fitzner in the middle and Elijah Thomas late.
At one point, Gonzaga had Williams, Hachimura and Tillie on the floor together and Tillie cashed in with a 3-pointer and Williams added a putback dunk to hike GU’s lead to 20-5.
“We talked about being aggressive and not trying to be reactive,” said Norvell, who had 17 points, seven boards, three assists, three steals and a few stitches to close a cut above his eye.
The Gaels trimmed a 17-point deficit to eight but GU stretched it back to 42-30 as Hachimura scored eight points in the final 5 minutes of the half.
Gonzaga never let up, forcing turnovers on SMC’s first two possessions and opening up 20-point bulge as Hachimura scored three baskets by posting up against Fitzner.
“When he’s finding his spots, and picking his spots the right way, he’s a tough matchup for a lot of people,” Few said.
Williams had 12 points and 11 rebounds for his fourth straight double-double. Josh Perkins was solid throughout with 13 points, five assists and a baseline jumper with 4:10 left that ended any notions of a late Gaels’ rally.
The Zags committed just four turnovers and shot 47 percent from the field. SMC made 41.5 percent after connecting on 56.5 percent in the first meeting.
“Really satisfying,” Melson said. “That shows growth and signs that we’re getting locked in and trying to get better every day. In December, we might not have held the lead for 40 minutes. We’re trying to keep focused and keep our foot on the gas pedal.”
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