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Analysis: Gonzaga’s offense misfires in upset loss to Saint Mary’s

UPDATED: Tue., March 12, 2019, 11:14 p.m.

Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell Jr.  reacts as Saint Mary’s celebrates its 60-47 victory over the Bulldogs in the WCC Tournament championship Tuesday in Las Vegas. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell Jr. reacts as Saint Mary’s celebrates its 60-47 victory over the Bulldogs in the WCC Tournament championship Tuesday in Las Vegas. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

LAS VEGAS – So many things went wrong for Gonzaga during a two-hour nightmare Tuesday, but here’s a condensed list:

Lack of energy, thumped on the boards, blown defensive assignments, careless turnovers and poor execution.

All against West Coast Conference rival Saint Mary’s in front of a pro-Zag full house of 7,771 at the Orleans Arena in a big game with potential NCAA Tournament seeding implications.

But tops on that unsavory list: Gonzaga’s offense, a record-setting cornerstone throughout the season, labored through a miserable night, setting a handful of records at the opposite end of the spectrum.

No. 1 Gonzaga picked the wrong night and wrong opponent to trot out its worst 40 minutes of the season. Second-seeded Saint Mary’s made GU pay for every mistake and pulled off a 60-47 upset to win the WCC Tournament, ending the Zags’ title streak at six and its tourney winning streak at 19.

“Kind of the perfect storm, really,” sophomore wing Corey Kispert said. “Really inefficient offense, combination of turnovers, missed shots and them just big-boying us on glass. Everything that could go wrong went wrong for us.”

Gonzaga posted its lowest scoring output of the season – by 20 points. The Zags made just 37.5 percent from the field, their first time below 42.9 percent. They shot 11.8 percent from distance. Their previous low was 14.3 percent in a 69-55 road win over the Gaels.

Gonzaga had just six assists after dishing out 26 in Monday’s semifinal rout over Pepperdine. The Zags also set season lows for free throws made (nine) and attempted (12). Gonzaga scored the game’s first five points, which turned out to be its longest run.

“We didn’t get much of anything done,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “It was our worst offensive game of the year and they deserve credit for that. They were basically gap heavy and raking our guys and we usually handle that pretty good.”

WCC Player of the Year Rui Hachimura was held to single digits in scoring for the first time this season. He had nine points, but only attempted six shots, one in the second half.

The Gaels’ bigs, led by Jordan Hunter, and a supporting cast crowded Hachimura whenever he touched the ball, which wasn’t nearly often enough. The Gaels were successful while keeping every Zag except for Brandon Clarke in check. Clarke took just eight shots but finished with 16 points and eight boards.

“They were collapsing on him pretty good,” Few said of Hachimura. “If we could have explored the collapse, kicked out, moved it again and got going it would have gave us a better look. Pride got in our way and we attempted a lot tougher shots than we needed to.”

Guards Kispert, Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell Jr. and Geno Crandall struggled, combining for just 17 points on 7-of-30 shooting.

The Gaels (22-11) doused the Zags’ 21-game winning streak, one of those a 94-46 beatdown administered by Gonzaga in early February.

“Every second,” responded Hunter, when asked if the team watched tape of that game.

“We gave into them,” coach Randy Bennett said. “We knew we couldn’t move forward until we hashed that out.”

The Gaels inched closer in a 14-point loss in Moraga, California, 10 days ago. They made ball security a priority in the third meeting.

“If you take quick shots against them,” Bennett said, “you’re going to get pounded because you cannot beat them in transition.”

Saint Mary’s controlled the tempo by limiting turnovers (11) and draining time off the shot clock. The Gaels made key shots just before the shot clock expired on several occasions, including Jordan Ford’s 3-pointer to give SMC a seven-point lead with 7:40 left and Tommy Kuhse’s off-balance banker to make it 56-47 with 2:05 remaining.

“We didn’t have the energy we needed,” said Norvell, who was 1 of 11 from the field. “Those guys made some big-time plays down the stretch, all game actually.”

Saint Mary’s outrebounded GU 34-27 and had a 32-24 edge in paint points.

“It’s on us,” Clarke said. “We were just lacking our offensive execution. We didn’t have any energy (on defense). They were able to take easy shots on us. We were taking a bit tougher shots than them. Obviously, it’s hard to win when other team is taking pretty easy shots.”

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