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Gonzaga Basketball

Graham Ike, Ryan Nembhard help No. 23 Gonzaga pick up 70-57 win at No. 17 Saint Mary’s

MORAGA, Calif. – Ryan Nembhard filtered through the options.

With multiple Saint Mary’s defenders closing in, Gonzaga’s point guard was down to one of three choices: try his chances at the rim against 6-foot-10 Mitchell Saxen, kick out to Nolan Hickman at the 3-point line or somehow slip the ball to forward Graham Ike, a dicey proposition considering the red wall that separated the GU teammates.

Nembhard’s solution? A clever behind-the-back-pass around both Gael defenders into Ike’s chest that allowed Gonzaga’s big man to finish with a clean layup off the glass.

“It was just nasty,” Ike said. “All I saw was the ball coming to me, I was like ‘Wow.’ After I finished, I was like, ‘Wow he’s a wizard.’ ”

Nembhard shrugged off the degree of difficulty, admitting, “We do it in practice all the time.”

Gonzaga probably had nights like Saturday’s in mind when the Bulldogs landed commitments from two prized transfers on the same morning – just hours apart from one another – on April 21.

Ike bulldozed his way to another 20-point outing, scoring 24 points to go with 10 rebounds, and Nembhard accounted for Gonzaga’s other double-double with 20 points and 10 assists to help the 23rd-ranked Bulldogs coast to a surprisingly comfortable 70-57 win over 17th-ranked Saint Mary’s at UCU Pavilion.

Ike became the first Gonzaga player to score 20 points in seven consecutive games since Adam Morrison in 2005-06, and Nembhard manufactured double-digit assists for the third time in seven games.

The victory spoiled the Gaels’ unbeaten WCC season, ended the nation’s longest winning streak at 16 games and gave Gonzaga a crucial Quad 1 win that could solidify the Bulldogs’ status as an at-large NCAA Tournament team come Selection Sunday.

Gonzaga (24-6, 14-2) may not need an at-large berth if the Bulldogs are able to maintain their late-season form at the West Coast Conference Tournament in Las Vegas, where they’ll open as a No. 2 seed against on opponent still to be determined on March 11.

“We’re playing our best basketball and it’s March,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “It’s a great sign, to come into this environment, against this team that I’ve got massive amounts of respect for with how they compete and how prepared they are and how they play together.

“It’s a heckuva win.”

Two days after Saint Mary’s clinched an outright WCC regular-season title, Gonzaga, which arrived in the Bay Area on Wednesday with two massive Quad 1 opportunities, came in as the team with more on the line and played that way much of the first half.

The Gaels scored the game’s opening basket on a 3-pointer from Alex Ducas, but the Zags controlled much of the half. Saint Mary’s watched its final lead of the game disappear when Nembhard connected on a short jumper with 12 minutes, 4 seconds to play in the opening frame.

That triggered a 12-0 Gonzaga run and the Bulldogs continued to chip away regardless of which five players were on the floor, scoring 30 of the game’s next 41 points to lead 44-28 at halftime.

The 44 first-half points for Gonzaga were the most by any team against Saint Mary’s since the 2021 WCC Tournament.

Gonzaga, which has won 169 consecutive games when leading by at least 10 points at halftime, wasn’t totally out of the clear. The Bulldogs withstood respective 10-0 and 7-0 Saint Mary’s runs to protect their lead the rest of the way.

“It’s big time, we just stayed together,” Nembhard said. “We’re a real close group off the court and I feel like it’s starting to show on the court, too. Building that chemistry and we just know we’ve got to stay together in those moments, lock in and really get those stops.”

When the Gaels made an early push in the second half, scoring 10 of the first 12 points after the break, Hickman responded with consecutive baskets and Ben Gregg scored on Gonzaga’s next two possessions to make it a 7-0 Bulldogs run.

The Gaels had another short burst later in the half, but it didn’t last long. Nembhard halted a 7-0 Saint Mary’s surge with a pull-up 3-pointer to extend GU’s lead back out to 14 points.

Gregg contributed with 12 points and seven rebounds while Hickman had four points and seven assists.

Gonzaga forced 13 Saint Mary’s turnovers, the most the Gaels have had since Jan. 4 against San Diego, and held coach Randy Bennett’s team to 22-of-59 shooting (37%) from the field. That marked the Gaels’ lowest shooting percentage since Dec. 16 against UNLV.

“I don’t think they’re a better team than us,” Saxen said. “They played better tonight, but I think we can get right back at it.”