WCC Showdown: Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s

WCC Showdown: Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s

No. 18 Saint Mary’s Gaels vs. No. 12 Gonzaga Bulldogs

Line: Saint Mary’s -3

Total: 137

Where: University Credit Union Pavilion, Moraga, California

When: Saturday, 2/4 at 10:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

The No. 12 Gonzaga Bulldogs find themselves in a rare position heading into their showdown at No. 18 Saint Mary’s on Saturday night.

Gonzaga (19-4, 8-1) is not in first place in the West Coast Conference standings, sitting one game back of the Gaels (20-4, 9-0). The Bulldogs still have two games with Saint Mary’s remaining during the regular season, but they would no longer control their own destiny with a loss on Saturday.

Oddsmakers expect that to be the case following this game, as Saint Mary’s opened as a 4.5-point favorite at DraftKings on Friday afternoon. Saturday night’s total opened at 141, which is one point higher than when Gonzaga notched an 82-69 win between these teams last March.

However, by Saturday morning, the numbers for side and total had moved. The Gaels are down to three-point home ‘chalk,’ while the total has been adjusted to 137.

Gonzaga has not been an underdog in a conference game since Feb. 10, 2018, when the Bulldogs took down Saint Mary’s as 1-point underdogs. They have only been underdogs twice since 2019, losing to Texas as 2-point underdogs in November and beating Alabama as 1-point underdogs in December. Each of their last five games as underdogs have gone ‘over’ the betting total.

The Bulldogs had several hiccups in non-conference play, losing to Purdue and Baylor to go along with their loss to Texas. They followed their 5-3 start with an 11-game winning streak before losing to LMU as 16-point favorites two weeks ago. Gonzaga has bounced back with a trio of comfortable wins over Pacific, Portland and Santa Clara.

Veteran big man Drew Timme went 7 of 14, scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the win over Santa Clara, becoming the third player in school history to score 2,000 career points. He is only 189 points behind career-leader Frank Burgess, which means he should become the all-time leader sometime around the conference tournament if he maintains his 21.1 points per game average.

“It’s kind of crazy, to be honest,” Timme said. “I (also) hit that number in high school, and it’s pretty cool. It’s a lot of points.”

Timme’s bigger priority is finding a way to beat Saint Mary’s on Saturday, which would put the Bulldogs in position to extend their streak of winning at least a share of 10 straight WCC titles. The Bulldogs come into this game ranked third nationally in effective field goal percentage (57.4) and third in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency rating. They are facing a Saint Mary’s defense that is fourth in adjusted efficiency, setting up a monster showdown.

Saint Mary’s lost three straight games against Washington, New Mexico and Houston in late November/early December before adding a 62-60 loss to Colorado State at the end of non-conference play. The Gaels have won 11 consecutive games since then, with eight of those victories coming by double digits.

Their latest win was a 68-59 final against San Francisco on Thursday, as head coach Randy Bennett earned his 500th career win. They have won at least 20 games in 15 of the last 16 seasons, with the only shortcoming being the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 campaign, but Bennett is more focused on the current conference standings.

“It’s really hard to think about it in any other way than that right now,” Bennett said. “In time you’ll reflect back, and the memories you’ll have of the players and coaches. That’s why we’re sitting here. We’ve had really good players, really good assistant coaches and great administration.”

The Gaels have made their mark on the defensive end, but their offense has been solid as well. They are sitting inside the top 60 in effective field goal percentage, turnover rate and offensive rebounding rate. Gonzaga’s struggles have been on the defensive end, where it ranks No. 246 in effective field goal percentage.

Freshman guard Aidan Mahaney leads four double-digit scorers for Saint Mary’s, averaging 14.8 points per game. Junior center Mitchell Saxen (12.5), senior guard Alex Ducas (12.4) and senior guard Logan Johnson (12.2) are all scoring in double figures as well.

Gonzaga is 6-12 against the spread in its last 18 games, but it is 12-5-1 ATS in its last 18 games against Saint Mary’s. The Bulldogs have gone ‘under’ in six of their last eight games, and these teams have gone ‘under’ in 10 of their last 15 head-to-head meetings.

The pick: Gonzaga +4.5

Saint Mary’s deserves credit for its perfect start to conference play, but we can’t pretend like it has been a particularly difficult stretch. The Gaels have only faced two ranked teams this season, and they lost four of their five toughest games on the schedule in the first two months of the campaign. Gonzaga slipped up against LMU several weeks ago, but that will only ensure that the Bulldogs are fully focused on Saturday night. They have won eight of the last nine meetings between these teams and have been the gold standard in the conference for a decade, so I am not even remotely interested in laying points against them in this spot.  

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