St. Mary’s guard Jordan Ford was watching a college basketball game on television when during a promo for the West Coast Conference championship game one of the announcers asked the other whether the Gaels had a chance to beat No. 1 Gonzaga.
The answer was a simple and unsurprising, “No.”
It wasn’t far from Ford’s mind when he went out and orchestrated a stunning 60-47 upset win at Orleans Arena on Tuesday night to end Gonzaga’s 21-game winning streak and run of six consecutive conference tourney crowns.
“I think we just did a great job of going out and competing and just believing in ourselves,” Ford said after scoring a game-high 17 points.
Those who doubted the Gaels, who were 14½-point underdogs, couldn’t be blamed after seeing Gonzaga hand them a 48-point drubbing in February.
St. Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said he made his team watch “every second” of that horror film so they could see everything that went wrong.
“I have no problem saying I thought we kind of quit in that game,” Bennett said. “We gave in to them. You let them get up by 20 and screw around, they’ll turn it into 40 real quick. They turned ours into 48. I knew we couldn’t move forward until we hashed that out and decided we can’t do that anymore.”
The Gaels were able to salvage some confidence from a 69-55 home loss in the final game of the regular season on March 2 and it proved invaluable.
“We were being told to pull off a miracle by people who didn’t even know us,” forward Jordan Hunter said after a 12-point, 15-rebound performance earned him the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award. “We didn’t. We knew we were going to win this game, but we were the only people who believed in us.”
The Gaels pulled it off by slowing it down and forcing Gonzaga’s high-powered offense to work hard every possession while defending for the entire shot clock on the other end.
It resulted in the Bulldogs producing a season-low in points, 20 below the 67 they scored in a 31-point win over Pacific, and a dismal 2-for-17 effort on 3-pointers. Gonzaga made just 38 percent overall.
“We weren’t talking to our guys about not trying to run or not taking quick shots, but the way they guard you, they’re just so good defensively,” Bennett said. “If you take quick shots on them, you’re going to get pounded because you can not beat them in transition.”
The Gaels did commit 11 turnovers, but very few came on live-ball situations that could trigger the Bulldogs’ running game. Gonzaga converted them into nine points.
St. Mary’s also took Zach Norvell out of his rhythm, forcing the guard to shoot 1-for-11. All-American Rui Hachimura was held to six shots, finishing with nine points.
But it was Gonzaga’s inability to push the tempo that was the biggest factor in the stunning result.
“That’s how they play,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “They’re very good methodically running their ball-screen action, and if there’s nothing there they methodically throw it in to the post and they were able to get some easy baskets. It’s hard to speed them up. It was our worst offensive game of the year, and they deserve credit for that.”
Brandon Clarke had 16 points and eight rebounds for the Bulldogs, who will find out Sunday if the loss costs them a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Cougars win women’s final
Breanna Chase scored 25 points, with all seven of her successful field goals coming from 3-point range, as Brigham Young defeated Gonzaga 82-68 to win its first conference tournament championship since 2015.
The Bulldogs, ranked No. 12 in the nation, were the top seed and had won the last two titles.
Shaylee Gonzales added 20 points and seven rebounds for the Cougars, who took control with a 16-0 run in the second quarter as Gonzaga missed 10 straight shots.
Zykera Rice made all 12 of her free-throws and finished with 25 points for the Bulldogs.
Adam Hill Review-Journal