SAN FRANCISCO — Mark Few felt uneasy until the final buzzer sounded.
After three years of last-second shots and steals that always seemed to go San Francisco’s way, the Gonzaga coach had seen too many leads at War Memorial Gymnasium evaporate. Almost happened again, too.
Kelly Olynyk had 26 points and nine rebounds, and Elias Harris added 17 points and 13 rebounds to carry No. 5 Gonzaga past pesky San Francisco, 71-61, on Saturday, snapping a three-game losing streak on The Hilltop.
“We’ve had some crazy things happened to us in here,” Few said. “They banked a shot from the baseline. We saved a ball up three, game over, on a rebound and then threw it right to their guy so they could make a 3. It’s been about three or four other things.”
Gonzaga weathered another strong — but brief — shooting display while its fierce frontcourt tandem bullied and bruised their way to a fast start and a furious finish. Olynyk’s 13-for-17 shooting from the floor and Harris’ 7-of-15 shooting highlighted an 11-0 run in the final minutes that put the Bulldogs (25-2 overall, 12-0 West Coast Conference) ahead for good.
“Since I’ve been here, we’d never won here,” Olynyk said. “It’s a big-time win here. We’ve got to keep that going and finish off this conference.”
Former Federal Way player Cole Dickerson scored 15 points, and Cody Doolin added 14 to help the Dons (11-15, 4-9) erase a 15-point first-half deficit. Unlike the last three seasons when USF stunned Gonzaga at home, though, the Bulldogs’ big men regrouped to overwhelm the diminutive Dons when it mattered most.
Yet, something about The Hilltop seems to give Gonzaga headaches.
The Zags sure seemed ready at the start, powering past the Dons with three quick dunks. That didn’t even include perhaps the prettiest play: Mike Hart lofting a half-court alley-oop that Olynyk laid up off the glass over a defender as Gonzaga opened with a 19-4 run.
USF’s shooters finally started to find their stroke before the break, much the same way they had at home against the Bulldogs the past three seasons. Mark Tollefsen, Avry Holmes, Tim Derksen and Dickerson each hit a 3-pointer during a brief burst of offense that sliced Gonzaga’s lead to 30-25 late in the first half.
Dickerson swished another from beyond the arc to tie the score at 45 with 10:36 remaining. He waved his hands in the air while running down court, sending the home fans into a flurry for the frantic finish.
Gonzaga fans who sprinkled the stands in red and blue made most of the noise the rest of the way.
Olynyk converted three layups during an 11-0 spurt that put Gonzaga ahead for good at 63-52 with 3:37 to play.