In one corner: Saint Mary’s, winners of 12 straight, preseason WCC favorite, conference player of the year favorite Jock Landale.
In the other corner: Gonzaga, winners of six in a row, balanced offense, perennial WCC kingpin picked second in the coaches’ preseason poll.
In Johnathan Williams’ corner, it’s the next game on a schedule that he doesn’t have committed to memory.
“I’m not a big guy (for) looking at the schedule,” Gonzaga’s senior forward said Saturday night following a 75-65 win over San Francisco. “I just come in on Monday and they say we’ve got Portland or Saint Mary’s and we start preparing for them.
“I just know my parents and friends ask me who we play and I’m like, ‘I don’t know.’ I know every Monday.”
Josh Perkins is a little busy as Gonzaga’s starting point guard, but the WCC All-Academic selection probably could shift over to the media side after his playing days.
Players and coaches subscribe to the “one game at a time” adage. The media rarely does the same. Perkins had both sides covered as the 15th-ranked Zags steamrolled overmatched WCC opponents.
“I’m not so good about it, to be honest, but I never overlook an opponent,” a smiling Perkins said. “It’s just tough to not see Saint Mary’s on Jan. 18. Just looking forward to the opportunity. It should be fun, real fun.”
The Gonzaga-Saint Mary’s collision course has been a few weeks in the making with both teams dominating conference foes by double digits. Both are 6-0 heading into Thursday’s date at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Both have stayed on task one-third of the way through the conference’s 18-game slate.
The Dons provided Gonzaga’s toughest WCC test, pulling within five in the second half and within six in the final minutes. It would have been even more interesting if the Dons hadn’t missed six consecutive free throws late in the first half and finished 9 of 19 from the stripe.
Williams banged knees with a Portland player on Thursday and sat out the second half. He did some drills, conditioning and played one-on-one Friday before putting up 17 points and nine boards against the Dons.
“We’ve been working since it happened, icing, heating it,” said Williams, mentioning trainer Josh Therrien’s assistance. “I’ve still got a ways before I get back to 100 percent but it felt pretty good for the most part.”
GU (16-3) wasn’t flawless but made enough plays late to hold off shorthanded San Francisco.
“We talked about that,” coach Mark Few said of being challenged in the closing minutes. “We needed to execute some things. Kyle (Smith, USF coach) did a good job switching to zone and we got a little tentative. We’ve been really good against zone thus far this year. That something obviously we can take a look at.”
The Gaels (17-2) knocked off BYU in overtime in Provo. They trailed visiting San Diego by eight in the second half before going on a 19-2 run en route to a 70-63 win. Their other four conference wins have been by comfortable margins.
“They have a great big man (Landale), great guard (Emmett Naar). They just play very disciplined and everybody knows their roles,” Williams said. “We have to find ways to exploit them in different mismatches.”
Follow the Zags to the tournament
Subscribe to our game day newsletter to stay up with the latest news.