Top-ranked Gonzaga cruises to WCC crown
Bulldogs pound Saint Mary's in conference title game
The No. 1 team in the nation has far loftier goals than being No. 1 in the West Coast Conference, but the Gonzaga Bulldogs savored sweet, sweet revenge against archrival Saint Mary's on Monday night.
The Bulldogs, who lost to Saint Mary's in overtime last year in the championship game of the WCC tournament, pounded the Gaels 65-51 to claim the tournament crown before a pro-Gonzaga sellout crowd at the Orleans Arena.
"We all remembered how it felt to walk off the court (last year) and not have that trophy in our hands," Gonzaga star Elias Harris said.
Harris and frontline partner Kelly Olynyk made certain Gonzaga's postgame march to the locker room was infinitely more enjoyable this time around. Harris scored 19 points and won the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award, and Olynyk led all players with 21 points and a career-high 12 rebounds.
The Bulldogs trailed 16-15 midway through the first half before they took the lead for good by holding the explosive Gaels scoreless for six minutes during a 9-0 run.
Gonzaga led 38-29 at the break, then removed all doubt with an 8-0 spurt that included six points from Olynyk. The last two of those points came on a vicious right-hand jam that brought most of the 7,896 spectators to their feet in roaring fashion with 13 minutes, 41 seconds left to play.
Afterward, Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett became the latest in a long line of rival coaches to say the current Bulldogs are the best Gonzaga team he's ever seen. Bennett, in fact, says the Bulldogs rank with the WCC's all-time best.
"We have a good team," Bennett said. "A very good team. One of our best teams, and we couldn't get 'em this year."
The Gaels (27-6) are 0-3 against Gonzaga this season. Saint Mary's came in 26th in voting for the latest Associated Press Top 25 -- the Gaels are 21st in the USA Today coaches poll -- and Bennett said he's optimistic his team will play in the NCAA Tournament.
The Bulldogs were already assured of a 15th straight NCAA Tournament berth, but the conference championship gave them an automatic bid and may have locked up a No. 1 seed. Few said he's sure Gonzaga will be headed to Salt Lake City or San Jose when the tournament field is announced Sunday.
The Gaels, seeded second in the WCC tournament behind Gonzaga, shot just 35.7 percent from the field. Matthew Dellavedova, the Gaels' outstanding point guard, scored just two points on 1-for-8 shooting.
"We played fantastic defense," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
St. Mary's guard Stephen Holt said, "We got some great looks, but it just wasn't our night shooting the ball."
Holt's silky-smooth jumper helped him lead the Gaels with 19 points. None of his teammates scored more than nine points.
The Bulldogs worked diligently to curtail Dellavedova's well-known efficiency in working off ball screens. Master defenders Mike Hart and Gary Bell Jr. split time guarding Dellavedova, but other Bulldogs also played roles in negating the ball screens.
"We took a great player and really just took him out of his game," Few said. "I haven't seen many people do that to Dellavedova, if any. He usually kills you one way or the other."
Dellavedova, never a big talker, said the Bulldogs "trapped on balls; they played pretty aggressive."
Now the Bulldogs turn their attention to the NCAA Tournament. For all of Gonzaga's many accomplishments on the basketball court, no Bulldogs team has ever made it past the Elite Eight.
This year, the Bulldogs have said quietly all season, history could be in the making.
"There's more to accomplish," Olynyk said.
NOTES: Harris was joined on the all-tournament team by Olynyk, Brad Waldow of Saint Mary's, Johnny Dee of San Diego and Anthony Ireland of Loyola Marymount. ... Gonzaga and Saint Mary's have met in five straight WCC title games, with the Bulldogs winning three of the contests. ... Saint Mary's starting guard Jorden Page received a standing ovation when he was helped off the floor after suffering a right knee injury midway through the first half. He did not return. ... The WCC and The Orleans Hotel & Casino announced a three-year contract extension to keep the WCC tournament at the Orleans Arena through 2016. The tournament has sold out in advance four of the five years it's been held at the Orleans facility.
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