The Gonzaga Eagles have worked hard all season, but the team appeared ready to turn it up a notch for their Washington Catholic Athletic Association Conference (WCAC) playoff run. In a quarterfinal game against the St. Mary’s Ryken Knights on Feb. 25, Gonzaga showed that fire and handed the St. Mary’s their largest defeat since early January in a 66-51 victory at Washington, D.C.’s Gonzaga High School.

Playing in front of their home crowd, four Gonzaga players scored in double figures and everyday role-players transformed into one-night stars, helping Gonzaga advance to the WCAC semifinals, which will be played on Feb. 27 at American University’s Bender Arena.

Senior forward Ben Dickinson and sophomore forward Kris Jenkins scored 15 points each, but it was the surprise performance of reserve senior guard Malek Williams that sparked second-seeded Gonzaga. With star sophomore point guard Nate Britt tied to the bench in foul trouble, Williams (10 points) spelled the starter and supplied a virtuoso performance.

Williams controlled the reins offensively, nailed a pair of open jump shots and even knifed into the St. Mary’s defense with a few backdoor cuts, helping to turn a six-point halftime lead into a 42-31 cushion at the end of the third quarter.

“He’s a senior so it’s his last go-around,” Gonzaga Coach Steve Turner said. “He understands, he’s been here, he’s been in the championship the last two times, he knows what this time is all about and he stepped up to the plate tonight.”

As a senior, Williams knows it truly is his last go-around as a member of this Gonzaga team and he, along with Dickinson, were motivated to end their last home game in style.

“We talked to each other and were like ‘Hey man, this may be our last shot. We got to come out and step up’ so I kind of took upon myself to play well for my team,” Williams said.

It was a long trip from Leonardtown, Md. for St. Mary’s (19-12) but the game was even longer. After confusing Gonzaga (23-6) early with their rotating zone defense, their opponents slowly started to break it down, leaving St. Mary’s at the mercy of Gonzaga’s abundant talent.

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO