Arrow-right Camera
Subscribe now
Gonzaga Basketball

Improving Zags put bubble talk on hold with impressive road win over Saint Mary’s

Gonzaga guard Ryan Nembhard takes the ball to the hoop against Saint Mary’s forward Mason Forbes during the second half of Saturday’s West Coast Conference showdown at University Credit Union Pavilion in Moraga, Calif. Gonzaga won 70-57.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

MORAGA, Calif. – Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett offered Gonzaga counterpart Mark Few a handshake and a compliment at the conclusion of the Zags’ 70-57 victory Saturday night.

Bennett’s words were similar to San Francisco coach Chris Gerlufsen’s after his Dons were thumped by Gonzaga 86-68 on Thursday at the Chase Center.

“Even what Randy said to me after the game, ‘We’ve gotten a lot better,’ which is what you’re supposed to do during a season,” said Few, after watching his team’s eighth straight win and 13th in 14 games. “I think that’s been lost in all this narrative crap that’s out there, but you’ve got amateurs making comments on TV, so that’s what you get.

“I remember (Kansas coach) Bill Self talked about that way back in (the Maui Invitational). Hey look, what we do with our teams and what we can do to get them better by the end of the year. That’s our jobs, that’s why we do this, why you’re on a team, why we practice and why we do everything that we do, players, coaches, everything. These guys deserve a lot of credit. Looking back at some of our other films, we weren’t very good and now we’re playing some good ball.”

The chatter around Gonzaga being projected in or out of the tournament field figures to die down with the Zags adding a third Quad 1 victory to their resume, all three coming on the road (Kentucky, San Francisco and Saint Mary’s). Two of those are against ranked teams.

The discussions might pick up about how well the Zags are playing heading into the postseason. It’d be hard to argue Gonzaga isn’t a tournament team and probably one opponents would rather not see in the same bracket.

“I really don’t care about all that (bubble talk),” GU point guard Ryan Nembhard said following a 20-point, 10-assist performance. “We’re just going to keep hooping and keep winning games. As long as we do that, we’re going to get in that tournament.”

“Control what we can control,” added junior post Graham Ike, who had 24 points and 10 rebounds. “Everything is in front of us and it’s in our hands. We’re just going to keep playing the right way and see what happens from here.”

The Zags were at their best at both ends of the court against the Gaels, ending SMC’s 16-game winning streak.

Saint Mary’s made just 37.3% from the field, and GU forced 13 Gaels’ turnovers, three above their season average. The Zags, who had just one fastbreak point in the loss to Saint Mary’s in Spokane, held a 15-3 advantage in the rematch.

SMC’s Aidan Mahaney finished with 16 points but made just 6 of 19 shots. Augustas Marciulionis had 10 points, 2.5 below his average. The Gaels came in averaging 74.8 points.

“Everybody was on a string as we were switching some stuff on possessions,” Ike said. “Everybody stayed locked in and on the same wave.”

At one point in the first half, Gonzaga made 11 of 12 shots. The Zags finished with 19 assists compared to five in the first meeting.

“I think we’re just trending in the right direction,” Nembhard said. “Toward the end of the year we’re playing our best basketball, and that’s what you want to be doing.”