As much as almost any teams in the country, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s are programs both known for offense, but their latest meeting was one marked with defense.
It was defense-as well as clutch play from their oft-maligned backcourt-that put the Bulldogs in complete control of the game on the road at a hostile McKeon Pavilion for 32 minutes, building a lead as high as 15 points. And it was D that got the Gaels back into it late, forcing turnovers and getting stops that had eluded them most of the night and setting the stage for a comeback that will be remembered.
The result was one of the best games yet in one of the very best series on the west coast, as Saint Mary’s rallied all the way back for a stirring 70-67 win. The Gaels held serve at home, while the Bulldogs’ claim to continued dominance in the West Coast Conference was put on hold after a disappointing loss.
For much of the game, Gonzaga was splendid defending Saint Mary’s high-powered, ultra-efficient offense. The Zags were seemingly in every passing lane, more physical inside and allowed few good looks, and the Gaels were way, way off when they had open shots.
The Bulldogs also got a jolt on both ends from guards Eric McClellan and Kyle Dranginis. McClellan, the one-time Vanderbilt transfer scored a Gonzaga career-high 23 points, 16 in the first half, and 10 in the first four minutes as the guests quickly jumped out to an eight-point lead. His length also was a noticeable bother for the Gaels on the perimeter. Meanwhile, Dranginis-always a tough defender-added 13 points off the bench and hit three three-pointers, seemingly delivering the daggers midway through the second half when the Saint Mary’s offense had started to hum.
Gonzaga also was the more physical team, and began the second half pounding it inside mercilessly to Domantas Sabonis. The big man powered his way to 17 points and 13 rebounds. He was mostly silent down the stretch, though, as the Gaels bowed up inside and their guards inceasingly descended on the post, nipping at him and poking the ball away for steals.
Saint Mary’s also couldn’t have done this without 6-foot-10 freshman Evan Fitzner, who scored 20 points and showed a versatile all-around game that is likely to make him a whole lot of money playing professionally someday. And, of course, there was Joe Rahon, who was the hero in the final seconds-and could’ve been the proverbial goat as well.
Rahon-who played all 40 minutes and was a one-man example of the ups and downs of this game for the Gaels, getting knocked down but dusting himself off repeatedly-made the front end of a one-and-one with 6.6 seconds left to put SMC up 68-67. He missed the second, and then-unaware of the foul situation-intentionally fouled McClellan in the backcourt.
Fortunately for the Gaels, unfortunately for the Zags, McClellan missed the front end. Fitzner rebounded and made a pair of freebies, and a final shot missed.
Saint Mary’s is now 16-2 and in sole possession of first in the WCC, while Gonzaga continues to be something of an enigma and now has five losses-two more than all of last year, but all by five points or less. While McClellan and Dranginis were outstanding, Kyle Wiltjer was almost silent in this game-eight points, just seven shots attempted. The next meeting between these two, though, is in just under a month, Feb. 20 in Spokane. Put it on your calendar.
- Kentucky showed well Thursday night, controlling Arkansas the whole way on the road for an 80-66 win. Tyler Ulis scored 24, but credit the Wildcats’ defense in this one too. The Hogs’ Anthlon Bell was held scoreless in the first half, and many of his 16 points came after UK had built a sizeable second half lead. Moses Kingsley also had to work hard for his 13 points.
- Memphis put up quite a fight, but Cincinnati had the answer every time in edging the Tigers 76-72 in a terrific game. Troy Caupain scored 25 and Shaq Thomas scored a much-needed 18 for the Bearcats.
- Purdue pulled away from Ohio State late for a 75-64 win. P.J. Thompson provided a lift off the bench with 10 of his 12 points late. Also in the Big Ten, Iowa won at Rutgers 90-76 with Peter Jok scoring a career-best 29 points.
- Another busy night in the Pac-12 saw Oregon outrun USC 89-81 as Elgin Cook scored 26. Arizona also rolled past Stanford 71-57 and California held off Arizona State 75-70.
- If it wasn’t the late show in Moraga, Calif., the best game of the night was in the CAA as Hofstra outlasted Northeastern 96-92 in three overtimes. It counts for just one win, but it’s a huge one for the Pride, coming on the road against the defending champions.
- And if that wasn’t the best game, then it was Sacred Heart and Mount St. Mary’s in the NEC. Certainly it was the most competitive, maybe as competitive as any game we’ll see all year. The Pioneers knocked off the first-place Mount 76-71 in a game that included 30 lead changes and neither team leading by more than five points.
- Make it 13 straight wins now for UAB after the Blazers pulled away late from the Rice Owls for an 82-70 win.
- Sure enough, Manhattan is coming on as a contender in the MAAC. The young Jaspers-who got off to an awful start to the season, losing seven of their first eight games-have now won seven of 10, including a 78-71 win over Monmouth.
- Another night, another double-double for Kyle Collinsworth, this one the NCAA-record 10th of his career. This time it was 10 points, 13 rebounds and a career-high 15 assists as BYU rallied from down 10 at halftime for a 91-80 win at Loyola Marymount. Hoping fans understand just what a terrific college player we are watching here.
- Tennessee-Chattanooga continues to roll, moving to 17-3 after a 73-60 win over UNC Greensboro. Eric Robertson drilled seven three-pointers in scoring 22 points.
- The schedule changes have been rolling in for this weekend ahead of the pending winter storm in the Northeast, including some for tonight that are listed just below. Saturday’s game with Virginia going to Syracuse has now been moved to Sunday night at 7 p.m., and the Cavaliers’ ensuing game against Wake Forest that was scheduled for Monday has been reset for Tuesday night at 7 p.m. Others include the nationally ranked duel with Providence at Villanova, SMU at Temple and St. Bonaventure at VCU games all scheduled for Saturday moved to Sunday.
- One of the games of the year in the America East takes place as Albany is at Stony Brook (9 p.m. EST, ESPNU). The Great Danes stole the league title game from the Seawolves in March on Peter Hooley’s incredible three at the buzzer. The real showdown will be if or when these two play again in March, but this should still be fun. By the way, Stony Brook has quietly won 10 straight.
- Valparaiso suddenly has a new challenger on its tails in the Horizon League in Wright State. Get ready for some defense in this one; Valpo ranks fourth in the nation in scoring defense, the Raiders aren’t far behind in 26th. Also in the Horizon, Illinois-Chicago travels south to take on Northern Kentucky.
- Danny Hurley is wringing out as much as can be expected at Rhode Island, but a tougher-than-expected season after the E.C. Matthews season-ending injury has resulted in six of the team’s seven losses by six points or less. Wouldn’t be surprised if that the Rams’ fate again in a trip to meet George Washington. The start time for this one has been moved to 3 p.m. and due to Australian Open tennis coverage will no longer be televised on ESPN2.
- Two surprise teams in the MAC square off with Toledo at Northern Illinois (6:30 p.m., CBSSN).
- The 179th meeting of the ancient series between Canisius and Niagara (7 p.m., ESPNU) takes place. Also in the MAAC, Fairfield is at Marist and surprising St. Peter’s crosses the Hudson River to face Iona.
- Finally, the Ivy League game between Yale and Brown was moved from Saturday to Friday due to the impending snowstorm headed for the East.
Wishing you a terrific Friday and a great weekend.