Photos by Tod Fierner (Saint Mary’s College Photographer)
LAS VEGAS — For the fourth time in program history and first time since 2012, Saint Mary’s cut down the nets at the West Coast Conference Championships after toppling No. 1 Gonzaga in dominating fashion. The Gaels now have an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament and will go to the Big Dance for the second time in the past three seasons.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Saint Mary’s defense was vital for the team’s win as they held Gonzaga to shoot just 38 percent from the field, their lowest total of the season, and 12 percent from beyond the arc. Zags’ star Rui Hachimura was limited to only nine points while Zach Norvell Jr. was 1-for-11 and 0-of-6 from distance.
The Bulldogs’ 47 points was their lowest total of the season and 20 points less than their previous low of 67. With the win, the Gaels have now held their WCC rival to two of their three lowest scoring performances of the season after limiting GU to 69 points exactly 10 days prior.
After Gonzaga was ahead for most of the first half, Saint Mary’s grabbed the lead with six minutes and change to go in the period and never looked back. Gonzaga went 1-for-10 to finish the game and SMC never led by less than two possessions for the final five minutes of the contest.
Jordan Hunter was named Most Outstanding Player in the tournament after scoring 12 points and grabbing 15 rebounds against the Zags. The 6-10 center was a major presence around the hoop and notched a block and a steal as well.
The Gaels took a 27-24 point lead into the halftime break. Krebs had 13 to lead all players while Saint Mary’s limited Josh Perkins and Hachimura to combine for only nine points in the period. SMC’s defense forced seven Gonzaga turnovers and had five steals.
Krebs scored the first five points of the game for the Gaels and Ford added a layup to bring Saint Mary’s within two at the first media timeout, 9-7. The Aussie gave Saint Mary’s their first lead of the game minutes later with a fadeaway jumper.
After playing less than a minute in the first half, Fitts scored five of the Gaels’ first seven points in the latter period, including a three that gave SMC their largest lead of the game to that point at six.
Saint Mary’s kept tight to the Zags as the score remained tied at 19 all at the under-8 timeout in the first half. There were four lead changes and six different occasions of the game being tied through the first 12 minutes and change.