Gonzaga-Saint Mary’s (Cal) Preview
Looking to remain undefeated in the WCC, the fifth-ranked Bulldogs try to snap the host Gaels’ nine-game winning streak Thursday night.
“It will be a very intense game that will be very physical,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “There will be a lot of energy.”
The Bulldogs (23-2, 10-0) have won six straight, held their last eight opponents below 65 points and are undefeated this late in league play for the first time since the 2008-09 team’s 14-0 season.
Saint Mary’s (21-4, 10-1) is only a half-game back, 13-0 at home and unbeaten since losing 83-78 at Gonzaga on Jan. 10. The Gaels are allowing 59.0 points per game while winning their last nine by an average of 16.0.
“We’re getting there,” coach Randy Bennett said after Saturday’s 74-64 victory at San Diego. “I think we’re becoming more consistent and that’s becoming our identity, which is what needs to happen.”
The Gaels ended Gonzaga’s run of regular-season WCC dominance by winning the league outright last season, as well as the conference tournament.
“We have to go out and prove our worth,” Bulldogs reserve forward Sam Dower said. “We didn’t win the conference last year and we want to get back up there again. So we have something to prove.”
These programs have split the last eight meetings, with four being decided by five points or fewer. Saint Mary’s won two of three last season, including 83-62 at home, but they’re 0-6 in the series when Gonzaga is ranked in the top 10.
The Bulldogs bring their first top 5 ranking since December 2008 to Moraga, Calif., where they were held to 40.7 percent from the field last season. They rank among the national leaders this season at 50.7.
Gonzaga was one of two teams in the top 7 of last week’s AP poll not to lose.
“That’s a wakeup call to us or a reminder to us that we’ve got to bring it every night,” guard Mike Hart told Gonazga’s official website, “because somebody’s going to bring us their best game every night.
“We’ve got to be prepared because some of these other teams are going down around the country and we don’t want to be one.”
The Bulldogs shot 58.3 percent in the first half last month versus Saint Mary’s to take an 18-point lead at the break. The Gaels shot 59.4 in the final 20 minutes to make a game out of it.
“We’ve got to play 40 minutes,” Gonzaga guard Gary Bell Jr. said. “We’ve got to do whatever we can to get that win. It’s going to be crazy in there.”
Bulldogs leading scorer Kelly Olynyk (17.7 points per game) had 31 points and eight boards as his team outscored the Gaels 46-34 in the paint. Saint Mary’s star Matthew Dellavadova (15.9 ppg) had 14 points but went 4 of 15 from the field.
Dellavadova, however, has averaged 24.3 points and 6.0 assists while shooting 60.0 percent in three home games versus Gonzaga. The Gaels are 12-0 this season when he scores at least 17.
“We’re going to have to stop Dellavedova,” Bulldogs guard Drew Barham said. “It’s going to take a team effort. He gets everybody involved.”
Stephen Holt scored a season-high 23 at Gonzaga but has struggled lately, averaging 6.0 points on 32.0 percent shooting over the past four games.
Bulldogs sophomore Kevin Pangos scored 22 in the last meeting and is 8 for 16 from 3-point range over his last two contests. Teammate Elias Harris has three double-doubles in the last six, and he’s averaged 22.0 points and 10.0 rebounds in three games at Saint Mary’s.