Preview & Prediction: By Fairway Jay
A battle for
first place in the West Coast Conference Thursday night as #22 St. Mary’s
(18-1, 5-0) travels to Spokane to take on #20 Gonzaga (14-4, 5-0).
This is the second time that ranked West Coast Conference teams have met
following last season’s 88-76 Gonzaga win over St. Mary’s on this same home
court. These two played a pair of high scoring games last season
Most observers are aware that Patrick “Patty” Mills is the marquee player for the St. Mary’s. The Gaels point guard leads the team in scoring and assists while drawing plenty of attention and making plays to get his teammates involved. But Omar Samhan and Diamon Simpson are powerful players inside with each player top-5 in conference rebounding while averaging double figures in scoring. St. Mary’s is the leagues top rebounding team just ahead of Gonzaga while also holding opponents to just 37% shooting in WCC play. The Gaels are the leagues #2 scoring team while Gonzaga is #1 in scoring and field goal defense in holding opponents to a mere 33% shooting in conference play. Gonzaga has beaten all five conference opponents by at least 14 points, but St. Mary’s will provide a stiff challenge in the leagues two-team race.
Things have gotten so good in Spokane that a 14-4, Gonzaga team with a top-25 ranking is described more often as disappointing than successful, and that’s not just the media as coach Mark Few and the Bulldogs boosters agree. Coach Few has chided talented freshmen Austin Daye all season about his rebounding and defense and recently Few had a talk with his guards Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray about being more accountable on the court. In spite of not living up to its coach’s expectations this is a very solid Gonzaga team. Jeremy Pargo is another excellent point guard and floor general who will put his solid defensive skills on display against the speedy Patty Mills. Gonzaga forward Austin Daye has really come on over the past four games averaging over 18ppg and 9 rebounds per game while hitting over 67% of his shots. He’s #3 in WCC rebounding and joins the Bulldogs leading scorer, big body senior forward Josh Heytvelt to form a solid front line duo.
St Mary’s is getting limited attention this season while annual conference kingpin Gonzaga made it to top-5 in the AP poll earlier this season. St. Mary’s is playing with double revenge and are an experienced team that has played in this atmosphere before with last year’s solid squad. Tough road win to get as Gonzaga is 58-3 at the McCarthey Center the past 3+ years, but St. Mary’s is capable and an ESPN2 audience might witness the upset.
Winner: Gonzaga Margin 1-4 points