As Gonzaga’s dominating 78-65 victory over 11th-ranked Saint Mary’s became more and more apparent Saturday night, ESPN’s Sean Farnham began repeating a phrase that became more and more like a mantra.
The Bulldogs, he said, are “getting what they want, when they want, how they want.”
Succinct analysis at its best. Almost, but not quite, reaching to the level the Zags displayed at McKeon Pavilion before the Gaels’ sellout crowd.
What they saw …
It’s probable Farnham and play-by-play voice Roxy Bernstein didn’t expect a 13-point win in a game the 12th-ranked Zags controlled from the opening possession.
But they did expect another outstanding outing from Rui Hachimura, who scored a career-high 23 points in the Zags’ lone West Coast Conference loss, 74-71 to Saint Mary’s in Spokane a few weeks ago.
Farnham continually pointed out both coaches invoked Hachimura’s name more than any other during the run-up to the contest. And the sophomore met the high standard Farnham predicted.
Not only did he score another 21 points, he was the one Bulldog Saint Mary’s couldn’t account for on the defensive end.
Maybe there’s a reason, one that Farnham hit upon in the second half.
When Bernstein labeled the 6-foot-8 Hachimura as possibly the best pro prospect in the WCC, Farnham jumped in.
“Take away the ‘possibly,’ will ya,” Farnham said, before going on to touch on why Hachimura is so prized already, all of which was on display against the Gaels, whose nation-best 19-game winning streak was snapped.
“He’s done it in a variety of ways,” Farnham said after Hachimura pulled up and hit a 15-foot jumper, helping the Zags (23-4, 13-1 WCC) build their lead to as many as 22 points.
But the win was actually built on the other end, and it revolved around the Zags’ defense on Saint Mary’s – and the WCC’s – leading scorer, center Jock Landale.
Gonzaga allowed Landale to get comfortable on the block in Spokane and he torched them for 26 points on 12-of-15 shooting.
The 6-11 senior had four shots in this one.
The Zags had a distinct game plan for Landale and they executed it well.
“It’s all because of the attention to detail on this end of the court,” Farnham said as Gonzaga limited Landale to one shot in the first half.
The Zags doubled Landale in a variety of ways, with Johnathan Williams, who had 12 points and 11 rebounds, doing the hard work of rooting Landale off the block. The nearest Zag then crashed down and, well, we will let Farnham explain it:
“They bring the double team,” Farnham said in the second half just after Landale had scored his fourth – and last – point, “and an opposite guard slides all the way over to cover back out on the shooter to contest.”
When the Bulldogs’ rotations were perfect, and that was often, the Gaels (24-3, 13-1) couldn’t get an open look. The nation’s best shooting team, which came in hitting 52.8 percent of its attempts, shot less than 42 percent in this one – and was under 25 percent in the early going.
What we saw …
The game was a physical one, mainly due to a less-is-more philosophy displayed by the veteran officiating crew of Mike Scyphers, Bob Staffen and Frank Harvey III, whose son Tyler starred at Eastern Washington.
“They have been consistent,” Bernstein said after another player hit the floor without a whistle. “They’re letting a lot of things go and they are letting them bang inside.”
For most of the night that helped Gonzaga, which was bigger and stronger at every spot except the post.
But it also opened the door for some late plays that seemed a bit too physical. The most flagrant of those came with GU up 19. Zach Norvell attacked the rim in transition and Jordan Hunter met him at the rim. He blocked the shot but also hit Norvell hard enough in the head and the body to knock him to the ground – and cut him above his eye. There was no call.
The play excited the crowd, one of the few things that did. In fact, it was louder before the game began than it was six minutes in.
“This crowd, that was on fire, has now become very silent,” Farnham said after Gonzaga had raced to an 18-5 lead that no one saw coming.
Though he didn’t say it, it was another example of the Zags getting what they wanted, when they wanted, how they wanted.
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