Motivated Gonzaga throttles Saint Mary’s 77-51 in WCC Tournament championship game
March 7, 2023 Updated Tue., March 7, 2023 at 10:14 p.m.
Gonzaga guard Malachi Smith yells as he embraces forward Drew Timme after the Bulldogs defeated Saint Mary’s 77-51 in the WCC Tournament championship in Las Vegas. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
LAS VEGAS – There wasn’t much real estate left on Gonzaga’s bulletin board by the time the Bulldogs tipped off against Saint Mary’s Tuesday night in the West Coast Conference Tournament title game.
Designated as the No. 2 seed this week, Gonzaga wore its road navy uniforms in a WCC Tournament game for the first time since 2016, the last time the Bulldogs weren’t the top seed in Las Vegas.
Anything that could have been perceived as a slight was turned into fuel – even something as simple as the color of a uniform – as second-seeded Gonzaga throttled past top-seeded Saint Mary’s for a 77-51 victory, handing the Bulldogs their 21st WCC Tournament championship.
“Coach (Mark) Few talked about it all week, dark uniforms on Tuesday,” Gonzaga junior and Las Vegas native Julian Strawther said. “That’s not like us and you should take it as a sign of disrespect. I felt like we did a good job of that.”
The uniforms were a conversation point again when Drew Timme, a basketball net draped over his neck, took the lectern for a postgame news conference alongside Few and Strawther.
“Wearing the blue jerseys, we don’t really know what that feels like in this tournament,” Timme said. “It’s nice, it’s obviously a nice lighter fluid to the fire.”
The Bulldogs were observant all week, taking mental snapshots of the different placards, signs and banners promoting Saint Mary’s as the No. 1 seed.
It didn’t rest well with the Bulldogs, who shared an identical regular-season record with the Gaels but came to Vegas seeded lower after the WCC used the NCAA’s NET rankings to sort out the tournament bracket.
“I feel like we just had a chip, we had a real chip,” Strawther said. “That’s been our motto, our slogan all year, but we just got to look at the signage all week saying that we’re a two seed, they’re the one seed. We just had to hear that all week and I felt we just kind of took it to heart and I feel like we came out and showed that all week.”
Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Drew Timme (2) celebrates with teammates after the Gonzaga Bulldogs defeated the St. Mary’s Gaels during the second half of a WCC tournament championship basketball game on Tuesday, March 7, 2023, at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. Gonzaga won the game 77-51. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga played perhaps its most complete game of the season and easily its most complete against Saint Mary’s after splitting the regular-season series with its WCC rival, losing an overtime game in Moraga, California, and hanging on for a gritty win in Spokane less than two weeks ago.
Both teams were scoreless for the game’s first 3 minutes, 8 seconds, but Gonzaga got on the board when Nolan Hickman made an elbow 3-pointer. The Bulldogs settled into an offensive groove, but the Gaels never did and Gonzaga took a decisive 37-19 lead into halftime .
The 19 points were the fewest the Bulldogs allowed against any Division I opponent this season and there wasn’t much slippage in the second half.
Gonzaga, which hadn’t given up fewer than 60 points to a DI team this season, held Saint Mary’s under 30 points until the 9-minute mark of the second half, limiting the Gaels to 18-of-54 shooting from the field and 4 of 16 from the 3-point line.
The Bulldogs led by as many as 37 points with 3:56 remaining .
“We came out with great assertiveness and again, it was our defense,” Few said. “Our defense was just unbelievable until right there with 3 minutes left when we put everybody on the bench. But I thought it was really active. We hit our rotations, we hit our coverages, we were physical around the rim and it took awhile for offense to get going, but when it got going it was the perfect storm.”
Gonzaga leaned on its defense, something that hasn’t always been reliable this season, and three frontcourt players who’ve been plenty reliable for the Bulldogs down the stretch.
Timme scored a team-high 18 points, needing approximately 10 minutes in the first half to break Frank Burgess’ career scoring record on a short jump hook. Timme, later named the tournament’s most outstanding player, finished 8 of 10 from the field and pulled down six rebounds.
Strawther scored 10 points – eight in the first half – and Anton Watson finished with nine points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Strawther and Watson both joined Timme on the WCC All-Tournament Team.
“I think we just came in knowing we were the underdog and playing with a chip on our shoulder,” Watson said. “We never really had that”
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