Saint Mary’s has fallen short as Gonzaga’s main competition for the top spot in the West Coast Conference in recent years. This season, the Gaels may be tougher for the Bulldogs to shake.
The 17th-ranked Bulldogs, seeking their 10th straight WCC regular-season title, face perhaps their biggest challenge in league play as they visit Saint Mary’s on Thursday night.
Gonzaga (12-3, 1-0) rose two spots in the poll after beating Portland 81-78 in its conference opener Saturday night. The Bulldogs held off a late rally, as they did in a 72-70 road win over the Gaels on Feb. 12.
“Once we focus on what we need to do down the stretch, we usually get it done,” senior guard Matt Bouldin said.
Bouldin averaged 17.3 points as Gonzaga went 3-0 against Saint Mary’s last season, finishing four games ahead of the Gaels in the WCC before beating them 83-58 in the league title game March 9. Saint Mary’s (15-2, 2-0) has finished second to Gonzaga in the regular season in five of the past six seasons.
The Gaels could be poised to finally overtake the Bulldogs. They have won five straight and 13 of 14, receiving 25 votes in this week’s poll.
Gonzaga had lost three of four at Saint Mary’s prior to last season’s meeting.
The Bulldogs, though, have every reason to feel confident entering this matchup. They lead the series 50-23, and their only losses this season have come against then-No. 7 Duke, then-No. 10 Michigan State and a tough Wake Forest team.
Bouldin leads Gonzaga with 15.4 points and 4.4 assists a contest. He has five 20-point performances this season and two in his last four games against the Gaels.
Freshman Elias Harris has given the Bulldogs another consistent scoring option in recent weeks. The forward averaged 18.5 points in his last four games after being held to less than six in three of his previous four contests.
Harris joins 7-footer Robert Sacre in the frontcourt. Sacre reached double digits in scoring in his first six games but was held to less than 10 in six of his last nine contests.
Sacre totaled five rebounds in his last two games. Gonzaga could certainly use a better performance from him as he matches up with Omar Samhan, the best big man in the conference.
Samhan had 24 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in Saint Mary’s 80-72 win over Santa Clara on Sunday night.
The 6-11 senior has 920 rebounds and has moved past Tom Meschery into second place on the Gaels’ all-time list. Diamon Simpson holds the record with 1,130.
Samhan is averaging 20.8 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. The senior, though, managed 9.3 points a game over his last four matchups with the Bulldogs.
Freshman Matthew Dellavedova gives the Gaels a productive scoring option on the perimeter. The guard is averaging 13.4 points and 4.1 assists while shooting 42.0 percent from 3-point range.
Dellavedova made 57.1 percent (12 for 21) of his attempts from beyond the arc in his last four games.