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Gonzaga Basketball

Zags keep their guard up in victory over Saint Mary’s

The Saint Mary’s offense starts with guards Joe Rahon and Emmett Naar.

It may finish with a Calvin Hermanson 3-pointer or Jock Landale operating on the low block, but the two veteran guards orchestrate nearly every play.

The duo usually works off high ball screens, probing in the lane to find their shot or draw enough defensive attention to dish to an open teammate. They’re patient, seemingly moving at half speed while waiting for an opening in the defense.

They didn’t find many Saturday against Gonzaga. The pair endured one of the worst nights of their standout careers as the fifth-ranked Zags rolled to a 79-56 victory in a showdown of WCC powers.

“Definitely one of our best defensive performances of the year,” GU guard Nigel Williams-Goss said.

Rahon and Naar combined to go 5 of 20 from the field and miss all four of their 3-point attempts. They finished with just 12 points, five assists and three turnovers.

Gonzaga’s guards did their part and the coaches did theirs by constantly adjusting the ball-screen coverages, but a big key was the help provided by frontcourt players Johnathan Williams, Zach Collins and Przemek Karnowski.

“Ball-screen coverages take five defenders to guard,” Zags guard Silas Melson said. “As a team we guarded pretty well, especially the latter part of the first half and the second half.”

Williams swatted five shots. Collins blocked one shot. Countless other SMC shots were off target because a big was in the proper defensive position in the lane.

“Those bigs jumped up and made plays,” coach Mark Few said. “We’re athletic enough we can mix in some switches. We wanted to change our coverages. They’re so smart and have such great basketball intuition. If they get comfortable, they can pick you apart.”

There was a stretch in the first half when that happened. The Gaels found their rhythm, even with star center Landale sitting on the bench with two fouls. Saint Mary’s moved in front 32-31 after Naar scored on a layup on a backdoor cut.

The Gaels’ next five possessions ended with three turnovers – all converted into points by the Zags – and three missed shots.

GU kept the defensive clamps on in the second half as Saint Mary’s made just 31 percent of its shots.

Rahon and Naar typically combine for 18 points and 11.5 assists per game. They rank first and third, respectively, in the WCC in assists, but they found few holes in the Zags’ defense.

“Just stick to their body,” Mathews said. “They want you to release so then you have to make a decision. They’re really good when you get stuck in those gray areas where do I help, do I not?

“We just said be definitive and talk it out. Max communication was going to solve it tonight.”