After an up and down season, the Gonzaga Bulldogs can put all that frustration behind them by beating St. Mary's tonight at 6 p.m. PST and earning themselves an automatic fresh start in the NCAA tournament.
While Basketball Prospectus rightly points out that Gonzaga has ridden their defense to improved performance, the story of this season has continued to be how they would replace the leadership and ball handling of Matt Bouldin at the point guard spot and Zach Bell of SBN's The Slipper Still Fits cites that as both the reason for their improvement over the last month and why they got past the USF Dons in the semifinals.
Gonzaga slips by San Francisco, advances to WCC title - The Slipper Still Fits
The story of the game (and for the past month or so) was Marquise Carter. At some point, when no one was looking, Marquise transformed himself from the lost guy on the court to possibly Gonzaga's most indispensable. Carter once again logged a game high 38 minutes, shot 4-9 from the floor, went 10-12 from the line, and had three steals. He's become extraordinarily reliable and it has become crystal clear that when the game is in the balance, the offense is going to go through him. Carter sank eight free throws in the final minute of the game and had a huge steal near the end to seal things up for the Zags. I can't say I have ever seen such a remarkable in-season transformation as the one Marquise is currently pulling off.
But as Bell notes the thing that has plagued them all year - including against USF - has been consistent intensity and an inability to put teams away.
Tonight against St. Mary's we get to see just how far they've come.