Those three losses, though? All three came to Saint Mary’s. All three came in the WCC Tournament championship game. The most recent came just last season. If Gonzaga has a kryptonite, it’s the Gaels on a Tuesday in March.
Just not this Tuesday in March.
The Zags are West Coast Conference champions for the 17th time in program history. With that, they’re heading back to the NCAA Tournament for the 22nd consecutive season — though they would have regardless of what happened in Vegas, for what it’s worth. Plus there’s the added bonus of picking up a little revenge for what Saint Mary’s did here last year.
In Monday’s semifinal win over San Francisco, the Zags were led by a pair of seniors, Killian Tillie and Ryan Woolridge. In the second half on Tuesday, another senior stepped up in Admon Gilder.
“The beauty of this team is our balance,” head coach Mark Few said at the time. “Last night Ryan was terrific, tonight Admon was terrific."
Few said that at a press conference while seated next to sophomores Joel Ayayi and Filip Petrusev. Those two, along with freshman Drew Timme, were named to the five-man all-tournament team. Ayayi took home the top individual honor, the tournament’s most outstanding player award.
Tuesday night saw Ayayi and Timme pour in 17 points each, with Ayayi delivering big shots all game and Timme pounding down inside as the Zags slowly beat Saint Mary’s into submission during the first half. Timme missed just one shot tonight, bringing his total for the tournament to two misses on 13 attempts.
The balance coach Few spoke of was completely absent for the other team on the floor.
Saint Mary’s dynamic duo of Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts combined for 43 of the team’s 66 points. With 3:28 left in the first half, they were the only Gaels on the score sheet. Amazingly, it was working. Saint Mary’s was up three points on the Zags before Tommy Kuhse became only the third Gael to record a point.
From there though, Timme took over. The freshman scored nine points over the final three minutes of the game and the Zags turned a six-point deficit into a one-point halftime lead.
That stretch from Timme will likely be remembered as the moment he transformed from a good freshman for the Zags into a legitimate star for the Zags.
In the second half, the Zags dutifully expanded their lead. Saint Mary’s, which was playing its third game in four days, with one of the games going into double overtime, started to run out of gas. With three minutes left in the second half, Gonzaga held a 24-point lead. As coach Few pulled his starters from the game and replaced them with reserves, that lead shrunk, but only slightly. In the end, the Zags won by 18 points, 84-66.
It was Gonzaga’s third blowout victory over Saint Mary’s this season. In years past, losing this game would’ve eliminated the Gaels from the NCAA Tournament. But they, along with BYU, are locked to make the tournament this year, which is a testament to the strength of the WCC this season.
And that makes what Gonzaga did on Monday and Tuesday even more impressive. The Zags won the tournament and put three underclassmen on the all-tournament team. The league’s stronger than it’s ever been, top to bottom, but Gonzaga’s still the team running it, as emphatically as ever.