There was no madcap comeback needed this time.
Saint Mary’s carved up Gonzaga’s defense in the second half – shooting 73.7 percent – and bottled up the Zags’ offense en route to a 63-58 victory in front of 6,000 Saturday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“They beat us on both ends of the floor,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, whose team dropped four home games this season. “We couldn’t find a basket and when we did start finding some baskets we couldn’t get stops in the second half.”
Saint Mary’s spoiled Gonzaga’s Senior Night and joined the Zags at the top of WCC standings. Gonzaga (21-7, 13-3), which lost to BYU on Senior Night last season, and Saint Mary’s (22-4, 13-3) share first place but the Gaels took the season series 2-0.
The Gaels became the first team to sweep a WCC regular-season series against Gonzaga since San Diego in 1997. Saint Mary’s rallied from 10 points down in the final seven minutes to beat the Zags 70-67 in Moraga.
It was the Zags who mounted a frantic rally late in the rematch. Saint Mary’s was in control most of the way and led 58-47 with 4:52 left after Evan Fitzner’s basket in the lane. GU scored six straight points to cut the margin to five before Gaels’ guard Joe Rahon coaxed in a 10-foot jumper and Emmett Naar made one of two free throws.
Gonzaga closed within 61-58 but Calvin Hermanson hit two free throws with 12.8 seconds left.
Gonzaga scored a season-low 58 points on 35.5-percent shooting. The Zags were just 5 of 26 beyond the arc, which left crowded conditions inside for forward Domantas Sabonis.
“I don’t think any of us played how we wanted to,” senior guard Kyle Dranginis said. “We got stagnant and we weren’t moving and we were just staring at the post. It allowed their defense to get set and be ready for that so they could run guys at them. No one really got comfortable all game.”
GU’s three seniors – Dranginis, Kyle Wiltjer and Eric McClellan – had rough nights, combining for just 28 points on 9-of-31 shooting.
“Most of them were pretty good looks, they didn’t happen to drop,” Few said of Wiltjer, who finished 5 of 16. “They have good length, they guard him tight and don’t give him much separation on the ball screens.”
Sabonis scored Gonzaga’s first two baskets on easy layups but had one more field goal the rest of the way. He finished 3 of 8 from the field.
“It was basically what they did in the first game,” Sabonis said. “They tried to double me, when I bounced it they would come at me. I would pass it out and try to make reads from there.”
Josh Perkins led Gonzaga with 21 points, but the rest of the Zags made 13 of 44 field-goal attempts (29.5 percent) and 2 of 19 from 3-point range (10.5 percent).
Hermanson took advantage of two Dane Pineau offensive rebounds and drilled a 3-pointer to give Saint Mary’s a 20-17 lead. Hermanson buried another 3 – the Gaels’ sixth of the first half – to start a 7-0 spurt.
Saint Mary’s led 30-23 at half. It was GU’s lowest point total in a half this season. The Zags took some hurried shots and fired several wild passes that led to eight turnovers.
“I don’t know if we couldn’t deal with the moment,” Few said. “It was just out of character, out of sorts.”
Saint Mary’s hurt the Zags’ defense with dribble penetration and with Naar and Rahon operating effectively off high-ball screens.
“They kept trying to attack Wiltjer on every ball screen, and then a lot of their stuff was off the dribble in the second half,” Few said. “They made a ton of 2s in the second half and we could never get much going on the offense.”
Naar and Fitzner each scored 13 points. Hermanson added 12 and Rahon added 10 points. Naar and Rahon combined for seven of the team’s eight assists.
Update: New approach. Adds quotes.
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