St Mary’s Fall to 9th Ranked Zags
Conference play is back, baby. And so is the best rivalry in the West; Gonzaga Bulldogs and the St Mary’s Gaels. Coming into the game with a 13-1 record, the best start to a season in school history since being promoted to Division 1, Gonzaga held the mantle of the 9th ranked team in the nation and, playing at their home court, most pundits would have had them an easy win. And early on in the contest, it looked like it was going to be exactly that.
Kelly Olynyk kick started the Bulldogs off the block and within even the first few minutes, it looked like he was going to back up his weekend performance of 33PTS against Santa Clara, a career high. On the flip side, Saint Mary’s made only one of its first nine shots while falling behind 9-2. One of the perpetrators of this statistic was the Gaels leading scorer Matthew Dellavedova who missed his first four FG’s. Before the Gaels could say “WCC Champions”, they found themselves in a hole. And to anyone to has played at the Kennel, they know that digging a hole in that stadium is hard to get out of.
To go along with this, hot shooter Beau Levesque and starting centre Brad Waldow got in to early foul trouble with the duo amassing five fouls between them before half time.
Heading into the half time huddle, the Zags had a comfortable 46-28 lead and looked set to ram home an important conference W. The second half began where the first half left off, with Gonzaga building their lead to 20. Randy Bennett almost seemed to throw in the towel after dragging Senior guard and spiritual leader Matthew Dellavedova and replacing him with Freshman Jordan Giusti, who only averages 10.4MPG. But the move proved to be genius, as the Gaels went on a scoring surge with their leading scorer on the bench and brought the game back within six.
Along with Giusti, Bennett also gave important minutes to other bench players in Beau Levesque, James Walker and Kyle Rowley who all did their job for the Gaels while the game was on the line.
Gael hot-shooter Steven Holt tried his best to get the Gaels back into the match, hitting 3-8 3PT and 9-14 FG, but it seemed that whatever he did, Gonzaga Sophomore PG Kevin Pangos could do better. Pangos’ 3-5 3PT and 8-12FG, including a couple of clutch baskets in the dying minutes, once again showed the nation what a pure shooter this kid really is. Averaging 12.4PPG this season, including 42% from behind the arc, Pangos has quickly established himself as the go-to man in clutch situations; proving that the bigger the stage, the more he will thrive.
It was set to become another classic match between the two rivals; but did St Mary’s have enough in their tank to roll over the top of the Bulldogs? It’s one thing coming from behind against a team like Harvard, just as St Marys had done a couple of weeks before, but it’s a completely different thing doing it against a ranked opponent.
Coming into the last minute, the game was still alive. It was a three-point game and Dellavedova grabbed the in-bound pass from a Gonzaga basket. As he held it against his chest, making sure the Zags players were clear before putting it to the floor, Elias Harris grabbed Dellavedova around the waste and pulled on his arm. The official, who stood directly behind the duo, obstructed from view, called it a jump ball, with the arrow pointing Gonzaga’s way. Immediately, Dellavedova showed his frustration. The call was as bad as any for the day in a game riddled with officiating errors. Here, Gonzaga had a chance to put the game well beyond doubt. They set up their offence and forced St Mary’s to play strong, straight up D. They did exactly that when the ball that seemingly came off a Gaels player was called Gaels ball. With this stop, the previous officiating error had perhaps been erased. It was now up to the Gaels to hit the tying basket; but it had to be from behind the arc.
As always, Dellavedova ran the ball up the court. As time ticked away, Dellavedova was unable to find any of his hot shooters open and made the decision to take the game himself. He brushed past defender Gary Bell, who swiped at Dellavedova hoping to draw the foul, and when one wasn’t called, he seemed to have a completely open shot at the basket. Bell screamed at the official, begging him to call something. Dellavedova sets himself and releases the ball in that perfect action that has secured him the mantle of the Gaels Top 3-Point shooter of all time. The ball sails through the air…and falls short. The fairytale was not to be, and Delavedova finished 2 from 9 from behind the arc.
“He has to make shots,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “No excuses. … He has to play better than that if we are going to win.”
“I wasn’t very pleased with our first half,” Bennett said. “I didn’t think our bigs competed very well.”
Not only didn’t they compete as much as Coach Bennett would have liked, but they were woeful from the line. Centre Brad Waldow had two chances during St Mary’s run to cut the margin down even further but missed at the front end of and-one opportunities. He ended up 2-6 from the line while the team as a whole finished with 15-23. For a team who usually shoots at over 75%, that’s just not good enough.
The game was Olynyk’s second consecutive 30+ point game, the first Bulldog to pull off such a feat since Adam Morrison in 2006. With a PPG average now of 18.1, which ranks a solid 47th in the nation, Olynyk is quickly cementing himself as one of the premier big men and looks like he can do to Gonzaga what Mason Plumlee has been able to do with Duke; a team that no one should be surprised if Gonzaga is able to put it to and even beat. To go along with this, Pangos finished with 22PTS and, for the Gaels, Holt had 23PTS.
The Gaels had won four of their previous seven games against Gonzaga but the Bulldogs proved that they are as good as any team in the nation when playing at home. The two teams are scheduled for a Valentine’s Day rematch in front of a national ESPN2 television audience from McKeon Pavilion.