MORAGA, Calif. – There were only two possible outcomes in the first 12-plus minutes: One extremely good for Gonzaga, one good for Saint Mary’s.
Fourteen of the second-ranked Bulldogs’ first 22 possessions ended with 14 field goals on 15 attempts. That’s beyond extremely good. The other eight possessions ended in turnovers, the only thing that kept Gonzaga from hanging 60 first-half points on rival Saint Mary’s.
When Gonzaga’s turnovers slowed down, the Gaels simply couldn’t get a defensive stop and their offense had no chance of keeping up with GU’s.
The Zags eliminated most of the suspense and crowd noise with a 22-2 first-half run that was a candidate for their best stretch of the basketball this season. Gonzaga cruised to a 90-60 victory Saturday night in front of a packed house of 3,500 inside University Credit Union Pavilion.
“I’d say, yeah, we did a great job tonight,” said senior forward Killian Tillie, when asked if it was Gonzaga’s best performance of the season. “Maybe the best we’ve done, but we’ve had some great games in the past, too.”
It wasn’t a repeat of Gonzaga’s 94-46 win over the Gaels in Spokane last year, but it was in the neighborhood. The final score was erased from the scoreboard and replaced with a pair of zeroes perhaps one minute after the final buzzer.
The 30-point margin was the worst home loss in SMC head coach Randy Bennett’s 19 seasons, and the Gaels’ most lopsided home loss since a 102-48 loss to Gonzaga in 2001.
Gonzaga’s frontcourt of Drew Timme, Filip Petrusev and Tillie, who returned after missing two games with an ankle injury, dominated. Tillie sprinkled in a pair of 3-pointers for good measure.
“We don’t have a good stat and they have a lot of good ones,” Bennett said. “They crushed us inside.”
Saint Mary’s 6-foot-7 forward Dan Fotu couldn’t match up when the Zags posted up in the paint. Forward Malik Fitts played just six minutes in the second half “because he wasn’t defending at all for us,” Bennett said. “We were losing ground with him out there.”
The Gaels tried 7-footers Jock Perry and Aaron Menzies, but they weren’t quick enough to deal with the Zags’ threesome.
The Zags’ first-half numbers were almost hard to believe. They shot 74% from the field, 10th highest for a half in program history. They made 5 of 6 3s. Timme connected on all five of his first-half shots and was 5 of 5 at the foul line.
The three bigs combined for 36 of GU’s 53 points before halftime. The Zags had a 22-8 edge in rebounding.
“At the beginning it kind of felt unreal, like, ‘Is this really happening?’ type of deal,” said point guard Ryan Woolridge, who finished with 11 points, three steals and three assists. “And then we just kept sticking with it. We limit those turnovers and we knock it out of the park.”
When Petrusev’s shot swirled around the rim and came out, it marked the Zags’ first possession that didn’t end in a field goal or turnover. By then, Gonzaga led 34-14.
“I haven’t heard of anything like that,” said guard Admon Gilder, who finished with seven points, five assists and three steals. “That’s crazy.”
It wasn’t just Gonzaga’s bigs. The guards did plenty of damage, with wing Corey Kispert adding 10 points, giving the Zags five players in double figures.
Gilder took a pass in the corner, pump-faked a defender out of position and drilled a 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded, putting Gonzaga up 53-28 at the break.
The Gaels (20-6, 7-4 WCC), who dropped into a third-place tie with Pacific, pulled as close as 17 in the second half, but Timme responded with a three-point play. Saint Mary’s cut it to 18, only to see Woolridge slash inside for another three-point play.
“That was a heck of a Saint Mary’s crowd that was ready to erupt, and I thought we did a good job of quieting them,” Zags head coach Mark Few said. “Then when they made the run in the second half, we did a nice job of executing and making some shots and getting some stops.”
Gonzaga (25-1, 11-0) led by as many as 34 in the second half. The Zags hit a season-high 67.9% of their shots. The school record is 71.8%, set against Saint Mary’s in 1996.
Saint Mary’s standout guard Jordan Ford finished with 23 points. Fitts played just 23 minutes and had 12 points.
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