Feb. 4—Gonzaga checked most of the boxes that are normally required to beat a Randy Bennett-coached Saint Mary's team. All but one, maybe.
The Bulldogs won the rebounding battle, took care of the ball against a defensive-minded Gaels squad and made most of the effort-based plays that tend to come in handy whenever these longtime West Coast Conference rivals meet.
But a Gonzaga team that's been undone by subpar 3-point shooting in many of its losing efforts this season struggled to get much to fall in a 64-62 loss to Saint Mary's in front of a sellout crowd at McCarthey Athletic Center.
The Gaels took a two-possession lead on a clutch 3-pointer from Joshua Jefferson, which made it 60-55 with 2 minutes, 37 seconds remaining, and Gonzaga missed four heaves from behind the arc in the final four minutes, ultimately running out of time in its second home loss this season.
With the loss, the Bulldogs (16-6, 7-2) fell two games behind the Gaels (18-6, 9-0) at the top of the WCC standings. Gonzaga hosts Portland (9-15, 2-7 on Wednesday before traveling across the country for Saturday's marquee nonconference matchup against No. 10 Kentucky (15-6, 5-4).
The Zags came up short from the 3-point line most of the game, making just 3 of 14 shots, while the Gaels finished 7 of 18 from distance and delivered on a few key opportunities when the game was hanging in the balance.
Jefferson's attempts from the top of the arc fell through the net to give the Gaels a five-point cushion and Augustas Marciulionis buried another critical shot from the 3-point line for Saint Mary's to extend the lead to six points, at 63-57, with 48 seconds remaining.
Gaels guard Aidan Mahaney appeared to step out of bounds earlier in the possession, but officials chose not to overturn the 3-pointer after a brief review, prompting Gonzaga students to toss plastic cups, towels and other items onto the court in frustration.
Anton Watson made Gonzaga's third 3-pointer to cut the Saint Mary's lead to three points, but the fifth-year senior forward was whistled for a foul on Mitchell Saxen underneath the basket on the following possession, allowing the Gaels' big man to effectively ice the game at the free throw line.
Mahaney finished with a game-high 20 points, on 7 of 17 from the field and 4 of 10 from the 3-point line, while Jefferson added 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Gaels.
Gonzaga set the tone early, racing out to a 7-0 lead after a pair of baskets from Ike — including an alley-oop from Nembhard — and a jumper from the Bulldogs' transfer point guard.
All the while Saint Mary's continued to misfire, going three minutes without a points and waiting six minutes for its first field goal. After a rugged offensive start, the Gaels did more than settle in on that end of the floor, reeling off a 12-2 run that allowed them to briefly pull ahead.
Gonzaga withstood a late 3-point shooting flurry from Mahaney and after six lead changes inside the final 9 minutes, 23 seconds, the Bulldogs took a 34-33 halftime lead on a short jumper from Nolan Hickman.
Gonzaga's offense stalls in second half, Saint Mary's holds GU to season-low five assists
There were trends in Gonzaga's first five losses of the season and they reappeared in loss No. 6 on Saturday night. The Zags 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. — Read more
TV take: ESPN's Sean Farnham reacts to Gonzaga students throwing debris on the court — 'I've never seen that here'
A rivalry game. A sold-out McCarthey Athletic Center. A Saturday night in early February. It's college hoops. It's Gonzaga and Saint Mary's. And it's on ESPN. With Dave Flemming and Sean Farnham on the call. — Read more
Difference makers: Aidan Mahaney's 20 points help Gaels to 64-62 win over Gonzaga
Aidan Mahaney — Read more
19:34 — GU 2, SMC 0: Zags win the tip and Ike quickly gets GU on the board with a jumper. Broadcast starts on ESPNU.
17:03 — GU 7, SMC 1: Great start for the Zags, who are turning up the pressure on the Gaels. Ike has four points for GU, while Nembhard adds three.
Nembhard called for a hook and hold under the hoop, SMC makes one free throw.
SMC opens 0 of 8 from the field, but are doing well on the glass.
15:46 — GU 7, SMC 2: Gregg is called for his second foul at the first media timeout. GU up to four team fouls early, while SMC has one.
Gaels still haven't made a field goal, now 2 of 4 on free throws.
11:53 — GU 14, SMC 7: Gaels' Jefferson is called for a foul to signal the U12 media timeout.
Hickman made a layup through a foul and hit the free throw to extend GU's lead. Ike is up to six points as the Zags are 6 of 11 from the field, but 0 of 4 on 3-pointers. SMC is 2 of 13.
7:41 — GU 18, SMC 17: Tough stretch for the Zags, who give up the lead on an 8-0 run, before Nembhard retakes it with a layup. Hickman called for a loose ball foul at the U8 media timeout.
Turnovers hurting GU with SMC taking a 5-2 advantage on points off turnovers, mostly on that latest run.
2:42 — GU 30, SMC 29: Ball goes out of bounds off the Gaels at the U4 media timeout. Little separating these teams as Mahaney hits a 3-pointer to cut the Zags lead.
Nembhard leads the Zags with 10 points, while Watson and Ike add six apiece.
Mahaney has nine points for SMC on 3 of 7 shooting on 3-pointers.
Good game brewing at McCarthey Athletic Center, as Gonzaga leads Saint Mary's 34-33 at the half.
The Bulldogs used pressure to get off to an early lead, but the Gaels settled in to take the lead on an 8-0 run. In total, there were six lead changes, though GU led for 17 minutes.
Gonzaga shooting 54% from the field (1 of 5 on 3-pointers), while SMC is shooting 41% (4 of 12).
Ryan Nembhard leads GU with 12 points on 5 of 7 shooting. Graham Ike and Anton Watson add six points apiece.
Aiden Mahaney and Mitchel Saxen lead SMC with nine points apiece.
16:11 — SMC 41, GU 40: Big offensive rebound by Ike, who is fouled to signal the U16 media timeout. Back-and-fourth start to the half, as Nembhard retakes the lead for GU with a 3-pointer.
Jefferson pacing the Gaels with six points this half, up to a team-high 13 for the game. Marciulionis called for his third foul, but stays in the game.
10:50 — GU 48, SMC 46: Nembhard is fouled on a quick burst to the hoop and will shoot two free throws after the U12 media timeout.
Both teams looking fatigued after a tough stretch of play. Zags and Gaels on roughly 3-minute scoring droughts.
8:38 — GU 51, SMC 50: Gonzaga calls a timeout after Nembhard looses the ball for a turnover. Zags have led almost all of the half, but Gales are keeping pace.
Mahaney leads SMC with 16 points, while Jefferson (13) and Saxen (11) join him in double figures.
Nembhard has 18 for the Zags, while Ike adds 10 and nine rebounds. Watson has nine points and eight rebounds, but is also in foul trouble with three.
5:34 — GU 53, SMC 52: Zags retake the lead and through some inspired play from Ike will shoot free throws after the SMC timeout.
Saxen picked up his fourth foul for the Gaels, who are on a 2:14 scoring drought.
2:35 — SMC 60, GU 55: Jefferson knocks down a huge 3-pointer to give the Gaels a 8-0 run and Few calls the Zags final timeout.
Largest lead of the night for GU, which is on a 2:59 scoring drought. Ike was on the bench with four fouls, but should check back in. Crucial possession coming up for the Zags.
2:06 — SMC 60, GU 57: Huge play from Gregg, who grabs his own miss and drives to the hoop. SMC called for a goaltend and a foul on Barrett after a replay review. Gregg misses the free throw.
0:48 — SMC 63, GU 57: Killer break for GU after Mahaney is stripped on a drive he's able to kick it out to Marciulionis for a wide open 3-pointer.
Mahaney appeared out of bounds on the play, which cannot be overturned. Gonzaga students throw trash on the court in retaliation, but aren't called for a technical for some reason.
0:00 — SMC 64, GU 62: Saint Mary's holds on to win after a chaotic final minute. Zags now in a deep hole in the WCC, failing to win another Quad 1 game.
Pregame: Students are ready in the Kennel, but they'll have to wait just a bit longer as tipoff is pushed back to 7:40 to accommodate the end of Tennessee-Kentucky on ESPN.
There aren't bigger games than this in the West Coast Conference.
Gonzaga is set to host rival and WCC-leading Saint Mary's tonight at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.
The Gaels (17-6, 8-0 WCC), picked to win the conference in the preseason, have won 14 of 15 games since a sluggish 3-5 start to the season. SMC has been tested lately though, beating Santa Clara 82-77 on Wednesday and Loyola Marymount 70-65 on Saturday.
The Bulldogs (16-5, 7-1) are trying to catch up in the standings, after losing on a late go-ahead to SCU on Jan. 11. Gonzaga put together its most impressive performance of the season on Tuesday, thumping LMU 92-58 behind 59% shooting and 47% on 3-pointers.
If the Gaels win tonight, they'll have a path to winning a second-straight regular-season title, having split with Gonzaga last year. They could do it outright this time though, which would be SMC's first since 2011-12.
If the Zags win, there will be a tie atop the standings, which may not be resolved until the regular-season finale in Moraga, Calif., on March 2.
'It's going to be a war': Gonzaga already feeling urgency ahead of first matchup with Saint Mary's
College basketball fans should get their fill on Saturday with top-10 matchups in the ACC (No. 3 Duke vs. No. 7 North Carolina), Big 12 (No. 4 Houston vs. No. 8 Kansas) and SEC (No. 5 Tennessee vs. No. 10 Kentucky). — Read more
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It's not the first time a Lithuania native with rich basketball bloodlines has shown up near the top of a Gonzaga-Saint Mary's scouting report. — Read more
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