LAS VEGAS – Mark Few said Gonzaga’s defensive game plan for Saint Mary’s was more detailed and in-depth than it has ever been, which meant more than just steering a bevy of active arms, legs, and a few pointed elbows at Gaels point guard Matthew Dellavedova.
The harmonious execution of the plan hummed, and the No. 1 Zags continued their every-other-year habit of capturing the West Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament championship by routing their chief rival Gaels, 65-51, at the Orleans Arena on Monday night.
Kelly Olynyk led all scorers with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Elias Harris, the WCC tournament most valuable player, added 19 points.
And the Zags won their school-record 31st game this season, and most likely clinched a top seed somewhere in the West Region – Salt Lake City or San Jose, Calif. – for the NCAA tournament.
Did they do enough to earn the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed?
“It is in somebody else’s hands now,” Few said. “We’ve controlled everything that has been put before us, and done an amazing job, which is all we can do.
“Watch us, and look at what we’ve done. Look at our results.”
Just look how they dismantled a good Gaels squad three times en route to sweeping the season series, including the playoffs, for the first time since 2009.
The Zags had a 20-point lead in the first half at home before eking out an 83-78 win in Spokane on Jan. 10. And a month later, the Zags went to Saint Mary’s and registered a 77-60 road victory.
The Gaels’ catalyst – as he has been for the past four seasons – was Dellavedova, whom Few said is like facing the “Tom Brady” of sharp, decision-making point guards in college basketball.
Dellavedova is especially good at setting up the offense off high ball screens. But the Zags brought all sorts of pressure, led by Mike Hart and Kentridge High grad Gary Bell Jr., then getting extra help from their big men – Olynyk and Harris.
“We got the ball out of his hands a lot, and made other people (shoot),” Bell said. “We can live with that.”
The Zags were smart about their pressure, too, sometimes disguising it and sometimes waging all-out warfare on the point guard. Dellavedova finished with two points on eight field-goal attempts, and turned it over twice.
“This has been brewing now for a while,” Few said. “The last six weeks, our (defensive efficiency) has been pretty darned good, and they’ve been pretty dialed into it.
“Tonight we took a great player and just took him out of the game.”
For a six-minute stretch in the first half, the Gaels sputtered, settling for rushed and largely off-balance 3-point shots, which got Gonzaga going in transition the other way.
The highlight moment came on a defensive possession as symbolic as it was devastating. With Dellavedova double-teamed near midcourt, Olynyk plucked the basketball from the Gaels’ standout, and the 7-footer went uncontested the other way for a thunderous dunk – giving Gonzga a 29-21 lead with 5:18 to go in the first half.
“I kind of crept up from behind,” Olynyk said. “Mike Hart kind of turned him, so it was real nice. It happens, I guess.”
Gonzaga closed out the final 5:40 by scoring on seven of its final nine possessions, grabbing a 38-27 advantage.
The Zags made 16 of 25 shots from the floor in the first half.
Had Stephen Holt not made a pair of 3-pointers in the first half for the Gaels – and another one 21/2 minutes into the second half, this would have turned into a rout earlier.
But the Zags kept applying the pressure, scoring on their first four second-half trips, and finally putting it away with a 15-4 run – capped by Olynyk’s baseline drive and dunk over Saint Mary’s Brad Waldow for a 53-34 Gonzaga lead with 13:10 to go.
“They don’t have many holes,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “They’re legit.”
For the next week, the national pundits will continue to argue, “How legit are the Zags?”
“It is all opinions,” Olynyk said. “If they want to rank us (No. 1), great – appreciate the respect. If not, like I said, you’ve got to go at it every game anyway.”
“I guess we can beat anybody in the nation if we play as well as we did today,” Harris said. “That means we have to play as a team, with great effort and fly around – and that is hard to do sometimes.”Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 firstname.lastname@example.org