Take a look at this box score and tell me the difference:
If you said “wow, Saint Mary’s couldn’t stop fouling the Wildcats,” you would be correct.
The Gaels are going home early because they could not keep Arizona off the charity stripe, and the Wildcats did their duty to make sure that those free throws were made (PSSST ZAGA, YOU MIGHT WANT TO PAY ATTENTION).
Saint Mary’s played their typical game to near perfection: their heavy defense made it so that the Cats only scored 50 points from the field, while their slowed offense allowed for a high shooting percentage. The ploy almost worked: the Gaels had built a 10-point lead with 5:07 left in the opening half and had limited the Wildcats to 12 points.
From that point on until the end of the first half, Saint Mary’s committed a staggering 7 fouls to allow Arizona back in the game.
In Arizona’s defense, when you have four starters in double digits, you’re not going to lose many games. The Freaky Finnish Lauri Markkanen was as good as advertised, all should be concerned if you have a 7’0″ player attempting a three-point shot, let alone making them.
He matched up well against Jock Landale, and even though the Aussie outperformed Markkanen, the freshman kept finding a way to get to the line, something that Landale could not do.
Saint Mary’s got out hot early as Landale was making every shot he took, including 10 first half points, while the Gaels defense managed to prevent Allonzo Trier from scoring any at all. Unfortunately, that all happened in the first five minutes for Landale, and he managed to only shoot 1-for-5 from the field over the next 22 minutes.
That scoring drought was not enough for Arizona to pull away, but Saint Mary’s kept falling behind and needing mini-runs just to pull back even.
Then the fouls. Damnit, the fouls. Except now it wasn’t “Saint Mary’s committing a bunch of fouls” but rather “refs giving Arizona calls.” Even completely made up ones.
That’s right, Markkanen shoved Jordan Hunter off the ball and ran them both into Trier doing it, but Rahon got called for the foul. That one came after the play where Dane Rstic shouldered Joc Landale so hard he gave him a bloody nose, but Landale got called for the foul.
While Saint Mary’s, in small part thanks to the refs, will have to watch the rest of the tournament from home, they do have a bright future to look forward to. The Gaels only lose two seniors, and Tanner Krebs had a welcome party, scoring 12 points in each of the NCAA Tournament games.
Saint Mary’s may have two players from Tasmania, but with the way Krebs performed in this tournament, he will become the Gaels’ Tasmanian Devil. With the youth on this team already being so talented and already the WCC being a decent mid-major conference, Saint Mary’s should be back with a vengeance next year.