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You knew it was going to be an ugly affair when the first two points were scored after three minutes had passed. St. Mary's had a game plan that included a slow, deliberate offense, pushing the shot clock to the limit on most posessions while employing a ball-hawking defense that disrupted the Zags all night.
For 39 minutes, Gaels coach Randy Bennett's plan worked to the letter.
Playing without Tony Skinner, Gonzaga seemed to lack the athleticism and quickness to apply a fullcourt press for prolonged periods of time. That allowed St. Mary's to dictate the tempo and lull Gonzaga into a stagnant, out-of-sync offense.
It was a struggle all the way for the Zags and their 1st-half total of 24 was the lowest all season. 28% shooting was the culprit, plus 50% free-throw shooting, but the sticky defense of St. Mary's was equally to blame. The Gaels would steal the ball eleven times!
The final score was 56-53 in GU's favor. Keep in mind the Bulldogs scored 50 points by halftime against Pepperdine just five days earlier.
The game would get scary in the 2nd-half with the Gaels creeping out to a 7-point lead. But Gonzaga rallied to within a point on a 6-0 run. Time-out, St. Mary's. Suddenly, in nearly no time, the team from Moraga, CA., sprinted to an 8-point lead with seven minutes left. Time-out, Gonzaga!
Methodically, the Bulldogs chipped away and grabbed the lead as the minutes disappeared. Cory Violette was grabbing every rebound in sight. Winston Brooks was deflecting passes, making stops and grabbing rebounds. Blake Stepp's big-time instincts were coming to the fore.
With little time to go, the luck that had been so bad toward Gonzaga finally reversed itself. Cory took a 3-point shot from dead-on top of the arc. It was way too long. But it was straight. And it banked in to give the Zags a six point lead that ultimately sealed the deal.
Though inexplicible poor free-throw shooting continued to give St. Mary's hope to the final buzzer, Gonzaga would win their 12th straight game over the Gaels to go 3-0 in WCC and 12-5 overall.
Blake and Cory had 16 points apiece and Cory had 15 rebounds. Brooks' harassing defense helped turn the tide at games' end and Winston earns the Red Lion BBQ Player of the Game.
Gonzaga next plays San Francisco in War Memorial Gym on Sunday, January 19, 2003, at 1:00pm PST.