SPOKANE — Gonzaga basketball coach Mark Few, whose laid-back manner belies his fiercely competitive nature, said “it’d be pretty cool” if the Bulldogs are ranked No. 1 when the new polls come out Monday.
Elias Harris was not nearly as “cool” as Few when he was asked whether Gonzaga deserves to be No. 1.
“Why wouldn’t we deserve it?” Gonzaga’s standout forward asked after the second-ranked Bulldogs wrapped up West Coast Conference play with an 81-52 rout of Portland on Saturday afternoon.
“We’re playing great basketball right now,” Harris said, “I feel we can play with anybody in the country.”
The Bulldogs (29-2), on a 12-game winning streak, completed West Coast Conference play at 16-0.
Gonzaga will be seeded No. 1 for the WCC tournament, which means the Bulldogs automatically advance to Saturday’s semifinals in Las Vegas.
A sellout crowd of 6,000 chanted “We’re No. 1!” during a postgame celebration that included the presentation of the championship trophy and cutting down the nets at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“I feel they’re very deserving of a No. 1 ranking,” Portland star Ryan Nicholas said.
Said Pilots coach Eric Reveno: “I think they should be No. 1.”
“If it happens,” Few said, “we’re not going to take it lightly because it’s never happened here before. It would be an honor.”
The Pilots (11-20, 4-12) have lost 20 in a row to the Zags, and 34 of the past 35.
Harris and Kelly Olynyk dominated inside, with Harris totaling 20 points and nine rebounds and Olynyk contributing 15 points and a career-high 11 rebounds.
Gonzaga outscored Portland 42-10 in the paint and 15-0 on fastbreaks. The outcome was never in doubt after a 13-0 run gave the Bulldogs an early 20-9 lead.
“They’re a very good basketball team without many weaknesses – any weaknesses that are obvious,” Reveno said.
The Bulldogs are sometimes hurt in the polls because the WCC lacks other high-quality teams. The last WCC team ranked No. 1 was San Francisco in March 1977.
The Bulldogs are 2-1 against current Top 25 teams, and 1-2 against Top 25 teams when they played them.
“We’re always going to have some people that say, ‘Well, the conference is not the best,’ ” Harris said.
Said Gonzaga swingman Mike Hart: “There’s so many people out there who don’t think we’re deserving of that (a No. 1 ranking). We’ve got to play with a chip on our shoulder.”
Gonzaga has defeated WCC opponents by an average of almost 20 points per game (77.2-57.8). Nicholas said the Bulldogs are tough to defend because guards such as Kentridge High School star Gary Bell Jr. (14 points, including four 3-pointers) and Kevin Pangos (eight points and five assists) nicely complement the deadly inside duo of Harris and Olynyk.
“There’s a difference between having great bigs (Harris and Olynyk) and great bigs that actually work well together,” Nicholas said.
“They don’t seem to be really concerned who gets the shots. They go high-low unselfishly. They pass the ball real well.”
Point guard Derrick Rodgers, Portland’s only senior, led the Pilots with 10 points. Nicholas, a Spokane native was not recruited by Gonzaga, had nine points and a team-high nine rebounds.
Gonzaga enjoyed a 49.2-28.8 edge in field-goal shooting percentage and made just five turnovers.
Olynyk added four assists to his 7-of-8 shooting in 21 minutes.
“A first-round draft pick,” Reveno said of Olynyk, who said after the game he’s “not even close” to deciding whether to pass up his senior season to turn pro this year.