Fans of Gonzaga basketball might remember the young Kelly Olynyk, a skilled but somewhat gawky 7-footer who was redshirted last year so he could grow into his body a bit.
The Canadian import apparently spent most of the year in the weight room and the rest of the time watching old films of Karl Malone’s power drives to the hoop because he showed up for his junior season with both a physical presence and aggressive attitude.
Saturday, he powered in 20 points to lead No. 14 Gonzaga to a 68-52 rout of Kansas State in front of 16,241 fans at KeyArena in the 10th annual Battle in Seattle.
Olynyk’s play was the highlight of a game that was at times sloppy and frantic, and cluttered with turnovers and blown layups. The Zags (10-1) forced Kansas State (7-2) into 18 turnovers and 33.3 percent shooting.
Gonzaga leads the nation in field-goal percentage, and Olynyk is a prime reason. The forward made 10 of 13 attempts in just 19 minutes of play as he was seated much of the game with foul trouble, and drew his fifth with almost five minutes remaining.
He has now converted 34 of his last 45 shots (75.5 percent).
“Other than a couple bonehead plays at the end, that’s kind of how he’s been,” GU coach Mark Few said of Olynyk, who was called for a taunting technical in the second half that the coach did not appreciate. “He’s changed his body a little bit, he’s playing with purpose on the offensive end.”
Especially in the second half, Olynyk showed his repertoire in the lane, once clearing space for himself by dipping his shoulder into the defender before lofting in a delicate fall-away jumper.
And later, he took a pass from guard Kevin Pangos on a pick-and-roll and threw down a massive dunk in the face of K-State defenders. The taunting tech came after that. “I kind of took it to a level that wasn’t allowed,” Olynyk said. “You get caught up in the game, the emotions.”
Such lapses have been rare as Olynyk upped his scoring average to 14.9 points a game.
“He’s a smart player,” Few said. “One who can hurt you a lot of different ways, passing, driving, scoring. That’s probably the biggest thing; he went from a kind of guy who loved to just play out there on the perimeter to a guy who is 7-feet tall who can use those skills down low. He had some nice patient post moves down there.”
Looking to bounce back from their lone loss to Illinois in Spokane last week, the Zags were unable to gain separation in a first half despite the Wildcats’ 10 turnovers and mediocre shooting.
The defensive intensity was cranked up in the second half, though, as Kansas State made just six of 22 field-goal attempts in the final 20 minutes.
“We spent a lot of time this week on the defense, and I thought we did a great job on their guards who hurt us in the first half,” Few said. “We challenged all their shots and ended up outrebounding one of the better rebounding teams in the country.”
Few also was encouraged by his team’s level of effort, defending with tenacity, and fighting for loose balls.
“I told those guys (in the locker room), that’s why people come,” Few said. “That’s why there was 16,000-plus in here, because Gonzaga plays that way. There was one play when we had all five of our guys on the floor (fighting for a loose ball). ... That’s why these people love these guys.”
Gary Bell Jr., a sophomore out of Kentridge High, scored 11 for the Zags, and forward Elias Harris was the only other GU player in double figures with 10 points along with a game-high seven rebounds.Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 dave.boling@ thenewstribune.com