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Gonzaga's offense stalls in second half, Saint Mary's holds GU to season-low five assists

Feb. 3—Trends emerged in Gonzaga's first five losses of the season and they reappeared in loss No. 6 on Saturday night.

The Zags' offense had success early but couldn't solve Saint Mary's physical defense for most of the second half — one of the primary reasons the Gaels dug out a 64-62 victory in front of a full house at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

Gonzaga scored a season low 62 points. The previous low was 63 points in double-digit losses to Purdue and UConn.

The Zags finished with five assists, equaling their season low against UConn. They had just eight assists in a 77-76 loss at Santa Clara.

"They try and keep it like a 2-on-2 game with some of those ball screens," Gonzaga point guard Ryan Nembhard said. "And they make it tough for you to spray it out and get good looks. We missed some 3s. We'll have to see next time we play them."

Nembhard led the Zags with 18 points but had just one assist in 40 minutes. Anton Watson, who also played 40 minutes, and Nolan Hickman each had two assists, but Hickman had a tough shooting night (3 of 12, 0 of 5 on 3-pointers).

GU once again misfired from distance, connecting on just 3 of 14 3-pointers (21.4%). The Zags hit just 43.6% from the field after a frigid 33.3% effort in the second half.

In the Zags' five previous losses, they averaged 41.9% on field-goal attempts, 19.8% behind the 3-point arc, 10.2 assists and 69.8 points.

Saint Mary's also shut down Gonzaga's transition game by getting back on defense and committing just five turnovers. GU had one fastbreak point while the Gaels, who play at a much slower pace, had four.

None of this was new for the Gaels, who have held 10 opponents below 60 points and yield just 58.4 points per game, third nationally. SMC opponents are shooting just 38.9% from the field and 31.5% on 3-pointers.

"We should mention the coaching staff and the amazing job they did on (Gonzaga's) tendencies and their plays," Gaels point guard Augustas Marciulionis said. "We kind of knew how they want to play.

"We did a really good job on their transition offense because they really like to pass and run in transition. And if they don't get that, it gets a little tougher for them to get into their motion. We just had to do a great job and play tough. I don't think we did a great job on rebounds, but we were physical and that's why we held them to way less than they usually score."

Gonzaga came in averaging 85.3 points, 88.1 in West Coast Conference games.

"Augustas was really good on Nembhard," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "He (Nembhard) hurt us in the first half. Nembhard had a good game, he can make everybody good, so for us able to be able to guard him and not bring much help helped us.

"That's why they didn't have a lot of assists. That's kind of how we play."

Gonzaga had a 3-minute, 28-second scoring drought as the Gaels rattled off eight consecutive points to take a 60-55 lead with 2:37 remaining. The Zags missed five straight shots during the Gaels' run and went 4 minutes and 45 seconds between field goals after Watson's jump hook with 6:51 left and Ben Gregg's putback at the 2:06 mark.

The Zags were efficient in the first half, hitting 14 of 23 2-point attempts (60.9%) but misfiring on 4 of 5 3-point attempts. GU had 34 points at the break.