Any game between Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s is always going to be a big draw.
Even as BYU joined the West Coast Conference in 2012 and immediately won their first conference tournament, the storied rivalry in the WCC remained between the Bulldogs and the Gaels. They’ll meet for the 71st time tonight, a series that Gonzaga leads 42-28, though they own only a 14-17 record in the Gaels’ home of Moraga, Calif.
Tonight, Saint Mary’s looks to avenge a Jan. 3 loss in Spokane that Gonzaga took 74-62 after a fourth-quarter surge. Since then, both squads have lost at BYU — who is now tied for the conference lead with the Zags and ranked No. 25 in the country — in close decisions, giving this meeting between the first- and second-place teams some extra dimension as they look toward their respective rematches with the Cougars.
In these teams’ meeting a month ago, Gaels forward Megan McKay shone, leading all scorers with 29 points on a conference-record 11-for-11 shooting. But the rest of their starters struggled, scoring just seven points total and leaving the bench — who outscored the Bulldogs’ always-reliable bench, 26-23 — to pick up the slack.
Gonzaga, on the other hand, shot 47.5 percent and were led by Chandler Smith’s 17 points, Zykera Rice’s 16 and Jill Townsend’s 10 off the bench. The Bulldogs’ inside game was working all night long, as they notched 40 points in the paint.
Of course, the Gaels faltering against the Zags’ conference-best scoring defense and field-goal percentage defense may have been the exception to the rule, as Saint Mary’s put up a WCC-record 113 points on Portland on Thursday night, with five players (including four starters) scoring in double figures. The Gaels’ output also marked their first time reaching the century mark since the 2006-07 season.
While Gonzaga improved its AP ranking this week from No. 18 to No. 15, they’ve been playing some catch-up ball of late, going into the halftime break of their past two games against Santa Clara and Pacific up by single digits before exploding in the later quarters for the wide victories. Of course, their win last month against Saint Mary’s was achieved in similar fashion, but the team with a WCC-high 19-point win margin might want to make its wins feel as simple as they come across on paper.
- Although Saint Mary’s is the WCC’s best team from beyond the arc, making 8.7 threes per game on 40.2 percent shooting, they made just five in these teams’ last meeting — the same number as the Zags, who come in at third in three-point percentage (36.1 percent) and ninth in threes per game (4.5).
- Saint Mary’s owns the best scoring offense in conference play, putting up 81.5 points per game to second-place Gonzaga’s 78.9 points per game. However, the Gaels achieve this with four players averaging in double figures per game — three of which are starters — while Zykera Rice is the only Zag averaging more than 10 points in WCC games, highlighting Gonzaga’s often-frustrating depth.
- This game will pit the two longest active win streaks in the conference against one another, as Saint Mary’s comes in having won its last five, while Gonzaga has won its last four. Just two other teams — Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount — have won their most recent game.
No. 15 Gonzaga Bulldogs (20-2, 9-1) at Saint Mary’s Gaels (14-7, 7-3)
When: Saturday, Feb. 2, at 9 p.m. ET
Where: McKeon Pavilion, Moraga, CA
How to watch: TheW.tv
Elsewhere in the WCC:
- For the second straight week, the WCC Player of the Week is Pacific sophomore forward Brooklyn McDavid, who averaged a double-double in the Tigers’ games last week — 17 points and 9 rebounds against Loyola Marymount, and 20 points and 11 rebounds in a big win over Pepperdine. Next up, the Tigers host Portland tonight (7 p.m. ET, TheW.tv).
- BYU, once undefeated in conference play, fell into a tie for first place with Gonzaga on Thursday after losing to Loyola Marymount, 61-58. The Cougars play at Pepperdine today (5 p.m. ET, TheW.tv), while the Lions host San Diego (5 p.m. ET, TheW.tv).
- San Francisco will look to end an eight-game losing streak as they face Santa Clara this afternoon (5 p.m. ET, TheW.tv). Last time these teams met, the Broncos grabbed the five-point overtime win to mark what was then the second loss in a row for the Dons.
- Bracketology is what it is at this point in the season, but for whatever it’s worth, both Gonzaga (as a 5-seed) and BYU (as a 10-seed) are represented this week. The last time two WCC teams made the NCAA Tournament was in 2016, when tournament champion San Francisco and regular-season champion BYU represented the conference.
- BYU freshman Shaylee Gonzales’ 20-game double-digit streak came to an end in the Cougars’ game against Loyola Marymount this week, as she scored five points in the loss.