SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Mark Few was admittedly road weary, and that is truly saying something for a Gonzaga coach who for years has played a daunting schedule taking his team all over the country.
At least the Zags are now headed home to Spokane on a nice roll just in time for their first showdown of the season with Saint Mary’s coming up Thursday.
Kelly Olynyk made a key putback with 1:55 remaining on the way to a career-high 33 points, and No. 10 Gonzaga held off a late rally to beat Santa Clara, 81-74, on Saturday night for its sixth consecutive victory.
“It was a great road trip. Probably the best I’ve ever been on in 25 years,” said Few, whose team departed Dec. 30 with its first stop a 69-68 win at then-No. 22 Oklahoma State on New Year’s Eve. “It started in Stillwater in front of 13,500 and into here tonight. That was an inspired, spirited, really much-improved Santa Clara team. We withstood all their shots and got it done. … We’re in the most difficult stretch I’ve ever been a part of.”
Elias Harris added 14 points for Gonzaga (15-1 overall, 2-0 conference), determined to win another West Coast Conference crown after Saint Mary’s snapped the school’s run of 11 straight won or shared conference titles.
Olynyk also had 10 rebounds, scored eight straight points late as the Zags shot 55.3 percent from the floor and beat the Broncos for the 26th time in the past 28 matchups.
“I knew in this game, especially, that I was feeling good about myself, my confidence was really high and I knew I was going to make plays if my team needed me to,” said Olynyk, who averaged 23.3 points over the three-game trip.
Kevin Foster scored 29 points and reached the 2,000 mark for his career and Marc Trasolini had 19 points and nine rebounds for Santa Clara (12-4, 1-1), which is off to the program’s best start since 1997-98.
After Trasolini’s dunk with 16:23 remaining pulled Santa Clara within 46-44, Olynyk scored four straight points and six of the Zags’ next eight as his team began to pull away before one last-ditch Santa Clara rally.
Gonzaga also shifted to a zone defense and caused the Broncos problems.
Foster had 17 of his points in the first half with two of his team’s six 3-pointers.
“We just like switching up our Ds,” Few said. “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Foster’s jumper with 6:55 left cut Gonzaga’s lead to six, then Trasolini hit a pair of free throws the next time down the floor to make it 64-60. But Gonzaga came through with the big plays down the stretch. Olynyk made a pair of free throws with 4:31 to go.