No. 5 Gonzaga faces No. 21 Saint Mary's in WCC featured matchup (Jan 14, 2017)
The West Coast Conference gets its opportunity to be in the college basketball spotlight Saturday night with No. 5 Gonzaga playing host to No. 21 Saint Mary's at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Wash.
The Bulldogs enter the game 16-0 overall and 4-0 in the WCC. The Gaels are 15-1 and 5-0.
Both teams did not look ahead to the showdown in their previous games Thursday night, each posting impressive victories.
Gonzaga soundly defeated visiting Loyola Marymount 93-55, shooting 53 percent from the field while limiting the Lions to 34.5 percent. Saint Mary's routed host Portland 74-33, shooting 50 percent from the field while the Pilots mustered only 25 percent.
"There's no pressure," said Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who had 11 points and five assists against Loyola Marymount. "We have the same motto: get better every day, each week."
Gonzaga's unbeaten start is a school record and it's the longest winning streak in the nation.
Saint Mary's enters the game also on a hot streak, winning its last nine games, all by double digits, after suffering its lone loss at home against Texas-Arlington on Dec. 8.
Last season, the Gaels won both games against Gonzaga during the regular season, including a 63-58 win in Spokane.
"That sticks with you," Gonzaga guard Silas Melson said. "It hurts when somebody comes into your house and takes your win away from you."
Saint Mary's enters the game allowing the lowest point total (33) in the win over Portland since beating Holy Names 78-33 on Nov. 24, 2002.
"Probably the best game we've played for 40 minutes," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said of the win over Portland.
In recent years, the top teams in the WCC are Gonzaga, Saint Mary's and BYU. A rivalry involves the Bulldogs and Gaels, although the series record tips heavily in Gonzaga's favor with a 63-29 record.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few is 37-9 against Saint Mary's.
"It makes it a lot more fun when you have a league game that's hyped up this much," Gonzaga junior guard Silas Melson said. "I mean, BYU always is and Saint Mary's always is, but this is a little something more."
Saint Mary's might have its best team under Bennett, who is in his 16th season as coach. He certainly has one of his most experienced teams with his top players in the rotation either juniors or seniors.
"I hate it when people try to rank that," Few said when asked if Saint Mary's is fielding its best team in program history. "That's his (Bennett's) call, not mine. I bristle when people say that about us when they maybe watch a highlight or two.
"But certainly, when you think about how good they were last year and return everybody -- I've never seen a team return every point, every rebound -- they're very experienced. And they play so well together, you can tell they really like each other."
Saint Mary's junior Jock Landale, a 6-foot-11, 255-pound junior center, figures to give Gonzaga senior post player Przemek Karnowski (7-1, 300 pounds) a good challenge in the paint
Landale leads the Gaels with 17.4 points and 10 rebounds per game. Karnowski is at 12.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.
Both are good passers, which allows for better scoring opportunities when they are double- and triple-teamed at the post. They each average 2.1 assists per game.
Another matchup to anticipate: Saint Mary's three-guard threat of Emmett Naar, Calvin Hermanson and Joe Rahon against Gonzaga's quartet of Williams-Goss, Melson and Josh Perkins and Jordan Mathews.
Both have good defenses, with Saint Mary's ranking No. 3 nationally in points allowed at only 56.6 points per game and Gonzaga is No. 33, giving up only 64.4 points per game.
The Bulldogs are No. 15 in scoring offense (86 points per game). The Gaels have an efficient offense ranking 11th in turnover-to-assist ratio (1.4) and they are particularly strong in rebounding margin, ranking seventh at 11.4.