MORAGA, Calif. – Saint Mary’s was considered to be the biggest obstacle left in Gonzaga’s pursuit of an undefeated regular season.
Turned out to be more of a speed bump.
The top-ranked Zags handled the 20th-ranked Gaels 74-64 in front of an overflow crowd Saturday at McKeon Pavilion.
Gonzaga (26-0, 14-0 WCC) leads the Gaels (22-3, 12-2) by two games with four conference games remaining. GU swept Saint Mary’s in the regular season a year after the Gaels did the same to the Zags.
Przemek Karnowski (19 points, nine rebounds) and Johnathan Williams (17 points, nine boards) dominated inside. Nigel Williams-Goss hit all eight of his free throws and scored 14 points and Silas Melson added 12 points as the Zags won by double figures for the 18th consecutive game.
Offense was just half the story. The Zags kept Saint Mary’s, one of the nation’s most efficient offensive teams, in check most of the way. Center Jock Landale, in foul trouble for the second time against the Zags, came through with 24 points, but his teammates made only 16 of 44 field-goal attempts.
“There was a lot of hype about this game,” Karnowski said. “We knew we needed to come here and play aggressive defensively and offensively. We’re a really good defensive team. Defense needs to travel and so far it’s been traveling with us.”
Williams, Nigel Williams-Goss and Melson helped close out the Gaels in the second half. Williams-Goss made a runner in the lane after SMC pulled within 49-44 with 13:30 left.
Williams scored on the low block after Saint Mary’s trimmed GU’s lead to nine two minutes later. Melson then hit a field goal and a pair of free throws, boosting Gonzaga’s lead into double figures each time.
The listed attendance was 3,500, but a few hundred more standing-room only fans spilled into aisles and empty spaces inside McKeon Pavilion. Fans were standing 2-3 deep in the side stairwells and beyond the last row of the upper concourse.
The result: a warm, steamy building.
“Unbelievable,” said guard Josh Perkins, when asked if it was hot on the court.