The Gonzaga Bulldogs went up against the Saint Mary’s Gaels in the McCarthey Athletic Center Saturday night, resulting in a 86-76 win for the Bulldogs on Senior Night.
After clinching the West Coast Conference title for the eighth consecutive year Thursday night against USD, the Zags (28-2, 14-1) were looking to send graduate transfer guards Ryan Woolridge and Admon Gilder Jr. off on a good note, along with senior Killian Tillie. Sophomore forward Filip Petrusev finished the night with 21 points and nine rebounds.
The Gaels (24-6, 11-4) arrived in Spokane looking for revenge from their last matchup, losing to the Bulldogs by 30 points in Moraga. Senior Jordan Ford was looking to build from his last performance in a 78-72 win against Santa Clara, scoring 33 points in all 40 minutes of the game.
In the pre-game festivities, four senior team managers were honored along with Gilder, Woolridge and Tillie, with one of them being Mac Graff. Graff, who is paralyzed, surprised The Kennel when he used a walker to walk to center court, resulting in an astounding roar from the crowd.
“I’ve never seen Mac Graff walk,” head coach Mark Few said. “That was about as powerful of a moment as I’ve seen in this building.”
Along with the pregame introductions, Such a big night would bring an equally big surprise, as NBA forward and Gonzaga alum Rui Hachimura made an appearance, sending The Kennel to a frenzy.
“I’m just happy to be back here,” Hachimura said.
Ford and Gonzaga junior forward Corey Kispert started off the game strong, each scoring four of their teams' eight points after the the first media timeout in the first half. The Gaels would maintain a lead for the majority of the first 10 minutes of the half, but after a Kispert floater, the Zags would obtain their first lead around the 12:30 mark of the first half.
Kispert finished the night with 20 points, shooting 80% from behind the arc and 58.3% from the field. Kispert said he has been able to gain more confidence as the season went on, saying Coach Few bases his coaching on what individually his players have done, allowing him to give Kispert a longer leash as he gains more confidence.
“I’ve shot it well enough that he’s given me a longer leash every game just to take more challenging shots,” Kispert said. “You’ve got to have the mindset every time you go out there on the floor that the next shot’s going in, whether you’re hot or missing everything,
At the end of the first half, the Gaels shot 45.2% from the field compared to 52% from the Bulldogs. The Zags would win the rebound battle by three, but with timely shooting from the Gaels and turnovers from the Bulldogs, the two teams headed to the locker room tied at 34.
At the beginning of the second half, the Zags started to find their footing again with a strong defensive effort and pure offensive dominance. Petrusev finished the night with 27 points and six rebounds, finishing multiple and-one opportunities and attacking the Gaels’ defenders. Petrusev said the team knew they were going to get their all from the Gaels after what happened in their last matchup, giving Petrusev more fire when he goes up against the Zags WCC rival.
“We knew when we beat them by 30 at their home, they’re going to bring it here [in Spokane,]” Petrusev said. “We responded, and I like playing against Saint Mary’s.”
Kispert and Petrusev combined for 47 of the team’s 86 points in the win. Tillie would follow with 13 and redshirt sophomore guard Joel Ayayi finished with 12 points. The Bulldogs finished the night shooting 59.3% from the field and 53.8% from behind the arc compared to 49.2% from the field and 31.6% from behind the arc of SMC. Ford finished with 28 points for the Gaels followed by redshirt junior forward Malik Fitts’ 15 points.
At the end of the night, Gilder Jr., Woolridge and Tillie all addressed The Kennel to say their goodbyes and thank-yous. Gilder thanked his parents and his three-year-old daughter, who will turn four on Wednesday, and also thanked his teammates and the coaching staff.
“Lastly, I want to thank Coach Few and the entire coaching staff for letting me come here and wear this Gonzaga jersey and be part of the Zag nation,” Gilder said.
Woolridge and Tillie expressed the same sentiments as Gilder Jr., expressing how grateful they were to be part of such an amazing organization and fan base. Gilder, Woolridge and Tillie all referred to The Kennel as the best student section in the world.
The Zags will play in the WCC tournament next week in Las Vegas, looking to win more hardware heading into March.
“We’re not done yet,” Tillie said. “Let’s go. Let’s get the national championship here.”