MBB Handles No. 20 Saint Mary's, 74-64
Feb. 11, 2017
MORAGA, Calif. (AP) No. 1 Gonzaga is generating plenty of debate in the college basketball world about whether the Bulldogs can finish the regular season undefeated, deserve the No. 1 overall NCAA seed or can make a Final Four run.
Just don't expect the Gonzaga players to join that discussion. They just want to take care of business.
Przemek Karnowski scored 19 points and the Bulldogs survived their toughest remaining obstacle to an undefeated regular season by beating No. 20 Saint Mary's 74-64 on Saturday night.
''We're not thinking about all that,'' forward Johnathan Williams said. ''We're thinking about getting better each and every week because if we keep getting better, nobody can stop us.''
No one has really come close all year with the Bulldogs (26-0, 14-0 West Coast Conference) having trailed in the second half in just two games after winning their 18th straight by double-digits to complete a sweep of the season series against their fiercest conference rival.
The trip to Saint Mary's (22-3, 12-2) was viewed as the last true test for Gonzaga before the postseason begins. The Bulldogs were seeded fourth overall in preliminary rankings for the NCAA tournament released earlier Saturday and can ill afford a slip-up if they want to be assured of being a top seed in a region next month.
Jock Landale scored 24 points despite being limited by foul trouble to lead the way for the Gaels, who couldn't get enough perimeter help for their big man to stay with the Bulldogs. Saint Mary's made just 4 of 15 3-point attempts.
The scene at overflowing McKeon Pavilion was electric for the first visit by the No. 1 team since Bill Russell and San Francisco came to Moraga in 1955. ESPN's ''GameDay'' show was on hand and fans packed the aisles for the standing-room only crowd.
It was a first half of runs with the teams trading 9-0 spurts early before Gonzaga broke things open with a 17-2 stretch late in the half.
''There was a lot of hype about this game,'' Karnowski said. ''We knew we had to come here and play aggressive.''
The Gaels then got the final six points from Landale to cut the deficit to 40-31 at the break. But Saint Mary's never got closer than five points in the second half as Gonzaga answered every charge.
''We weren't happy with the start,'' Gaels guard Joe Rahon said. ''We were able to fight back, fight back, fight back every time they tried to push out a little bit but couldn't get back that last time.''
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs should be heavy favorites the rest of the regular season with home games against San Francisco, Pacific and BYU and a trip to San Diego left. But they know they must keep improving if they want to be ready for the elite teams come tournament time.
After missing almost all of last season with a back injury, Karnowski decided to return for a fifth year instead of jumping to the NBA where he might have been a first-round draft pick. The Zags are thankful for that decision as evidenced by the all-around performance he delivered this game.
''He's such an entity,'' coach Mark Few said. ''There's not many like him in college basketball. He's big but he can pass. ... At the other end, he's big mountain of a man who's hard to move and he's a good rim protector.''
While others were focused on ''GameDay'' being in town and the NCAA releasing its preliminary tournament rankings, Williams had much more important things to tend to in the morning.
''I was asleep,'' he said ''I wasn't watching that. We don't get to sleep during school with practice in the morning and workouts. On the road, you have to get it in.''
Gonzaga: Host San Francisco on Thursday.
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