No. 1 Gonzaga turned in one of its worst performances of the season and rival Saint Mary's, who punched a ticket to the NCAA Tournament in one of the most surprising results we might see throughout all of championship week, winning the West Coast Conference tournament final 60-47 on Tuesday night in Las Vegas.
The Gaels totally controlled the pace from the start and did a fantastic job of limiting Gonzaga's fast break opportunities. Good defense, plenty of fortunate bounces and a strong performances from Jordan Hunter and Jordan Ford took Saint Mary's over the top, but there's a good amount of blame to be assigned to the top-ranked team in the country.
Even with the loss, Gonzaga could still end up as the No. 1 seed in the West Region on Selection Sunday. The Zags are 30-3 with a win over full-strength Duke on a neutral floor and likely had that top seed line secured before Tuesday night's disappointing showing.
But while Gonzaga's lackluster showing in the final gets top billing thanks to their No. 1 ranking, what shouldn't be lost is the great game plan and execution by Saint Mary's. Gonzaga averages almost 90 points per game and Saint Mary's shut down the nation's most efficient offense with an incredible display of discipline and commitment to the game's pace and getting back on defense.
A loss, even in a valiant effort, likely wasn't going to be enough to secure the Gaels' spot in the NCAA Tournament and that was reflected in an urgency that was not apparent in Gonzaga's performance. By the time the reality of the upset set in, the confidence Saint Mary's had gained from leading for most of the game powered them through in the final minutes.
"I'm just proud of how hard they played. You've got to believe against those guys," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said on ESPN after the game. "We caught them on an off night, but they are so good. We were able to keep them out of transition and take care of the ball. This group's tough. They're resilient, we were 3-4 to start the year and a lot of people didn't think we were good. These guys kept hanging, kept staying together, didn't get down."
Bennett closed his on-camera interview with the admission that it was "a little bit of them, a lot of us" contributing to the surprising result. Gonzaga shot 37.5 percent of from the field, and Bennett knew that getting an off shooting night was the perfect complement to his gameplan.
If there's one real concern moving forward for Gonzaga, it's that Saint Mary's might have laid out a slow-paced blueprint to knocking off the offensive juggernaut. Mark Few is one of the best coaches in the country and sure to address the issue in practice between now and the NCAA Tournament, but there's no doubt this performance is not what Gonzaga fans wanted to see at a time when you'd like to see a championship contender playing its best basketball.