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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga rewind: ‘Vintage’ Anton Watson, milestones and guards’ interesting night

Feb. 26, 2023 Updated Sun., Feb. 26, 2023 at 8:12 p.m.

Julian Strawther didn’t have his best stuff for the first time in couple of weeks. Drew Timme didn’t quite reach his scoring average. Gonzaga misfired repeatedly behind the 3-point line.

The guard line endured another up-and-down night.

And Gonzaga still made nearly 54% of its shots, including 63.2% inside the arc, put up 77 points against one of the nation’s best defenses and beat No. 15 Saint Mary’s 77-68 Saturday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

The math works out because Anton Watson did Anton Watson things, Timme was highly efficient, Malachi Smith was big off the bench again and the guards found ways to contribute.

Saint Mary’s has allowed 70 or more points four times this season. Gonzaga accounts for two of those, including a 78-70 overtime loss in Moraga earlier this month. Only Colorado State (55.8%) has a higher shooting percentage against Saint Mary’s than Gonzaga’s 53.8%.

Senior Night arrives Wednesday against Chicago State – Gonzaga’s game notes Saturday said Timme, Watson, Smith and Rasir Bolton will be honored, though Timme, Watson and Smith are eligible for an extra COVID season – but first a final look at how the Zags took down the rival Gaels in our latest rewind.

Watson delivers again

The 6-foot-8 forward is having a memorable senior year, one that figures to result in All-WCC honors and strong consideration for conference defensive player of the year.

Watson finished plus-13 in the plus-minus category to match Smith for the best on the team. He fouled out in the final minute but his imprint on the game was impressive during 37 turnover-free minutes of playing time.

He scored 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting. He hadn’t attempted a 3-pointer in six of the previous seven games, but he nailed a corner 3 to open the second half. He had eight rebounds, three assists, four steals and one block.

“Just vintage Anton,” coach Mark Few said. “He’s just had an incredible year and he’s been so valuable for us, and it’s not just on the defensive side. He’s making all kinds of plays on the offensive side, just tapping into that great instinct and feel that he has at both ends of the floor.

“He had to fight because (Saint Mary’s Kyle) Bowen is one of the toughest guys in college basketball. It was quite a battle between those two.”

Watson is averaging 11.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists – all career bests. He’s made a team-leading 61.8% from the field among rotation players, just ahead of Timme’s 61.6%.

Watson has 56 steals, eighth on GU’s single-season list. Jalen Suggs and Steven Gray are tied for sixth with 57. Watson has a 152 career steals and shares 10th place on the all-time list with Blake Stepp.

Another sweet 16

It’s another sweet 16 milestone for the Zags, but we’re not referring to the program’s seven consecutive trips to at least the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament.

Saturday’s win marked the 16th straight season Gonzaga has registered at least 25 wins. That breaks GU’s tie with Kansas (2005-2020) for the longest Division I streak.

“It’s what I knew I was getting into when I committed here,” Strawther said. “I knew it was a winning culture. I wasn’t going to be the guy to come in here and let that stop. All the guys in the locker room and all the guys that have come before us, it’s just a testament to them and the staff for how well they’ve put together this program.

“A lot of teams call themselves a family or brotherhood, but I don’t think too many of them can say it like we can.”

The streak began after Gonzaga’s 23-11 record in 2007 in Few’s eighth season at the helm. The only other season with less than 25 wins in Few’s 24 years was in 2003 (24-9).

“That’s an incredible stat,” Few said. “We owe it to these players that have come through here, all of them, on a stat like that because winning 25 is tough.”

On guard play

It was yet another interesting night for Gonzaga’s backcourt, though Bolton gets a pass after rolling his right ankle two minutes into the first half.

Bolton stayed in and forced a missed shot by freshman guard Aidan Mahaney, then drew a foul on Logan Johnson at the other end before subbing out. Bolton played just 19 minutes, but hit an elbow jumper with 4:42 left and was solid defensively.

Smith missed just one shot en route to 13 points, five rebounds, two assists and no turnovers in 27 minutes.

Nolan Hickman struggled at the outset, but rebounded to finish with nine points and four boards. Hunter Sallis was just the opposite with his best work early on with five quick points.

“These guards are interesting. You just never know who is going to have their night, it’s hard to predict,” Few said. “But I have a lot of confidence in Malachi. He’s never afraid. The bigger the moment, usually the better he is.”

Strawther, who averaged 24.8 points in the previous four games, made just 2 of 10 shots, but contributed with 11 points, five rebounds and three assists.

“Respect to them, they came in with a different plan defensively to disrupt the flow I had going on,” Strawther said. “It was just a matter of everyone else doing what they’re capable of. We have so many talented guys, when I have an off night everybody else is going to have an on night.”

Johnson stung the Zags for 27 points, but GU limited Mahaney, who took over late in regulation and in overtime in the first meeting, to nine points on 3-of-10 shooting. Mahaney had four turnovers.

“This is a tough place to play,” Gaels coach Randy Bennett said. “We’ve had guys that didn’t score their first two years here in their freshman and sophomore years. He was good in the second half, but the first half he was jumpy.

“Some of it is they’re good defensively and they give him some different looks – all things that he’s going to have to learn to not struggle with. You’re going to see every look. He’s learning. He’s doing a great job.”

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