MORAGA, Calif. – No. 23 Saint Mary’s did to Gonzaga what the top-ranked Zags have been doing to nearly every West Coast Conference opponent all season.
The Gaels dominated from the outset, pounded Gonzaga in the paint and forced turnovers and capitalized. They shut down the nation’s top scoring offense.
The result was a stunning 67-57 victory for the Gaels and 40 minutes of misery for the Zags, who fell into a halftime hole too large to overcome.
Gaels’ fans, who made up most of the 3,500-plus at University Credit Union Pavilion, stormed the court after the final buzzer, celebrating arguably the biggest home win in program history. Saint Mary’s went 16-0 on its home court, the first unbeaten home season in school history.
“They did a good job of just taking the game to us,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “They were far and away the most aggressive team and the most purposeful team for probably three-quarters of the game.”
The Gaels’ upset – they were 11-point underdogs – snapped a long list of Gonzaga streaks.
The Zags (24-2, 13-1 WCC) had won 17 consecutive games, seven in a row in the series and five in a row in Moraga. Gonzaga’s run of 34 consecutive WCC victories, including the last 31 by double figures, came to an end.
“It was a tough night for sure,” Gonzaga senior guard Rasir Bolton said. “They had a great crowd. It was Senior Night with a lot of energy. Momentum was swinging their way a lot of times. We just have to bounce back.”
Most of the damage was done in the first half as Saint Mary’s seized momentum in the opening seconds. The Gaels set the tone with a flurry of layups and close-range shots, led by point guard Tommy Kuhse’s two drives to the basket in the first 2 minutes.
The Gaels’ first 19 points were all scored within 4 feet of the basket, the only exception was a free throw on Mitchell Saxen’s and-one layup.
“They went right at us,” Bolton said. “They were the tougher team. They were stronger getting to the rim.”
The Zags were within 19-16 after Andrew Nembhard’s basket in the lane, but the Gaels responded with 12 unanswered points.
Drew Timme, who has dominated Saint Mary’s in his three seasons to the tune of 75-percent field-goal accuracy, didn’t score until 14:53 left in the second half after missing his first eight shots.
“They just got after him,” Few said of the Gaels’ defense. “They played him really physical and made everything hard for him. We ended up settling for a lot of shots. That was that.”
Saxen gave the Gaels big minutes and production after starting center Matthias Tass picked up his second foul early in the first half. The 6-foot-10 sophomore, who averages just 3.4 points, had seven points, four rebounds and three blocks by intermission. Sophomore wing Jabe Mullins, who averages just 3.0 points, matched Saxen with seven points as the Gaels took a 36-21 lead into halftime.
Gonzaga’s 21 points was its lowest in a half since scoring 17 vs. Duke in the 2009-10 season.
Bolton scored the first five points of the second half, but Kuhse and Tass teamed up for the next five points. SMC took its biggest lead 50-34 on a Tass layup with 13:09 left.
The Zags hinted at a comeback several times, but couldn’t sustain a run until cutting the margin to 57-50. Saint Mary’s wing Kyle Bowen, 0 of 5 on 3-pointers with a couple way off target, buried a corner 3 to restore a 10-point lead.
GU was within 63-57 with possession but Julian Strawther was whistled for a charging foul with 24.3 seconds left.
With limited production from Timme and Holmgren, GU turned to Nembhard, Bolton and Strawther for points. The trio combined for 45 points, but it wasn’t nearly enough to overcome GU’s chilly shooting night (36.7 percent. Timme was limited to a season-low six points on 2-of-10 shooting. Holmgren finished with six points.
Kuhse, one of four seniors honored on Senior Night, had 14 points, six rebounds and four assists, including assists on Bowen’s two dagger 3-pointers in the final 4 minutes. Tass added 13 points as the Gaels finished with a 40-28 edge in paint points.
Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s (24-6, 12-3) have an extended break before taking the court Monday, March 7, in the WCC Tournament semifinals in Las Vegas. They won’t learn their opponents until Saturday, March 5.
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