Aidan Mahaney exposes Gonzaga's defense as Saint Mary's rallies for OT win: 3 takeaways
By Cole Forsman,
Aidan Mahaney is making a case for being named the West Coast Conference Player of the Year.
A 6-foot-3 freshman guard, Mahaney was unstoppable when it mattered Saturday night, leading No. 18 Saint Mary’s to a 78-70 overtime victory over No. 12 Gonzaga .
Mahaney's offensive outburst helped Saint Mary's improve to 10-0 in the WCC, two games ahead of Gonzaga (19-5, 8-2).
Here are three takeaways from the Gaels' impressive victory:
MAHANEY COMES ALIVE
Mahaney grew up two miles from Moraga and has had a memorable freshman campaign, averaging a team-high 15.0 points per game while shooting 41.6% from the 3-point line.
Saturday started as a night to forget though, as the Zags' defense limited Mahaney to two points on 1-for-7 shooting in the first half.
Without their leading scorer in rhythm, the Gaels' offense managed to shoot 34.4% from the floor in the first half, including 15.4% from deep.
Mahaney, who fouled out in a 17-point performance against San Francisco last time out, was hindered by foul trouble in the second half against Gonzaga. Randy Bennett was forced to pull his starting guard after he picked up his fourth foul with 10:59 remaining.
But the freshman rose to the occasion when it mattered most. Upon checking back in with 7:30 left in regulation, Mahaney scored or assisted on 15 of Saint Mary’s final 18 points in regulation, including a dime to Mitchell Saxen to force overtime after drawing the defense’s attention.
“He just has it,” Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said in his postgame press conference. “A lot of guys would fold and just kind of hang their head and just kind of finish the game like that. That’s where he’s kind of special. He’s got great belief and he really, really competes to win. That’s where he’s special.”
His lone basket of overtime was a 3-pointer he banked in from the left wing to give the Gaels a 68-64 lead with 3:11 left to play.
Saint Mary’s is 13-1 this season when Mahaney scores at least 15 points.
BEST IN THE WEST
Entering Saturday, Gonzaga was viewed as one of the best offenses in the country. The Zags were averaging 86.4 points per game as the nation’s highest-scoring offense while shooting a nation-best 52.1% from the floor.
Saint Mary’s, which came in allowing 57.2 points per game, the fourth fewest in the country, boasted a top-10 defense according to KenPom’s efficiency.
In a battle of strength versus strength, each side had its moments before Gonzaga was worn down in the second half and overtime.
The Zags led 19-8 midway through the first half as the offense capitalized on defensive stops. Gonzaga started hot, going 7-for-10 from the floor, while holding Saint Mary’s to a 4-for-11 start.
The Gaels weathered the storm before halftime, but Mark Few’s squad still led 32-24 after shooting 48% from the floor while committing just one turnover.
Despite an even better shooting clip, Gonzaga’s offense in the second half wasn’t the same. The Gaels amped up the defensive intensity, forcing eight turnovers while preventing the Zags from knocking down a single 3-pointer.
Gonzaga tied its mark for fewest 3-pointers made in a game this season after a 4-for-11 showing from deep on Saturday.
CONTROLLING THE PACE
In a game featuring two completely different styles of offense, whichever team controlled the pace had the greatest chance of walking away with a win.
For Gonzaga, which ranked 41 st in adjusted tempo according to KenPom, that meant speeding up a much more patient Saint Mary’s squad that ranks 359 th out of 363 teams in the same metric.
After building a 19-8 advantage through seven minutes of play, the Zags' offense went three minutes without a basket and relied on the defense to keep the Gaels out of striking distance.
Another scoring drought ensued later in the half, as Gonzaga was held without a basket for nearly three minutes before Saint Mary’s made it a 30-24 ballgame.
Slowly but surely, the flow swayed in favor of the Gaels, who held the Zags to their lowest-scoring second half of a game this season with 29 points despite them shooting 57.9% from the floor.
Gonzaga hosts San Francisco on Thursday at 6 p.m. Rasir Bolton's game-winning putback helped the Zags defeat the Dons, 77-75, in San Francisco on Jan. 5.
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