Tahlequah Daily Press

College Sports

March 12, 2013

No. 1 Gonzaga rolls to WCC crown

LAS VEGAS — Gonzaga played well enough to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, all season and in the West Coast Conference title game.

Whether the top-ranked Zags get that top spot won't be decided until the weekend, not that it matters all that much to them.

"We've been playing great basketball all year," Gonzaga forward Elias Harris said after the Zags rolled over Saint Mary's 65-51 in the WCC final Monday night. "We believe in ourselves, we believe in our coaches, we believe in our teammates."

Already headed to the NCAA tournament for the 15th straight season, Gonzaga (31-2) sure had the look of a No. 1 seed against their West Coast rivals, dominating at both ends.

The deep Zags shot 52 percent, controlled the paint and teamed up to hound Gaels leading scorer Matthew Dellavedova everywhere he went. Kelly Olynyk had 21 points and 12 rebounds, Harris added 19 points and Gonzaga had a 42-18 advantage in the paint to win its 14th straight game.

But instead of hopping up and down at their accomplishment, the Zags gave a few high-fives and hugs amid the streamers falling from the ceiling, a subdued celebration for a team that has its eyes on a bigger prize.

"You've got to enjoy your successes when they come, but you have to be short-minded in the sense that it's not the end of the year for us and we still want to come out and make some noise in the tournament," Olynyk said.

Saint Mary's (27-6) labored against Gonzaga's attacking defense and size inside, particularly after point guard Jorden Page injured his right knee midway through the first half.

Dellavedova struggled for the second straight game, scoring two points on 1-of-8 shooting, and the Gaels went 7 for 27 from 3-point range while shooting 35 percent overall.

Stephen Holt led Saint Mary's, which should have a solid enough resume to earn an at-large NCAA bid.

"I thought we played well offensively, but we didn't shoot it (well), which is a big part of offense," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said.

Gonzaga has been the marker for mid-major success, reaching the NCAA tournament 14 straight seasons and the regional finals four times, including the past two seasons.

This season, the Zags broke through a big barrier on their way to 30 wins for the first time: No. 1.

Behind Olynyk, the long-haired Canadian with the Seattle-grunge vibe and way-above-the-rim game, Gonzaga lost just two games — to ranked teams — and became the first team to go 16-0 in the WCC. That earned the Bulldogs a spot atop The Associated Press poll for the first time last week.

While the glare at the top was too much for many teams in this season of parity, Gonzaga handled prosperity well, closing the regular season with a rout over Portland. Gonzaga then beat Loyola Marymount in the semifinals of the WCC tournament to reach the title game for the 16th straight season.

Waiting for them was a familiar foe.

The Gaels and Bulldogs have met 15 times the past five seasons, trading WCC tournament championships each of the past four years.

Gonzaga beat Saint Mary's both times they met during the regular season, 83-78 at home and 77-60 in the Bay Area. The Gaels nearly missed a third shot, needing a late 3-pointer by Dellavedova and overtime to hold off San Diego in the WCC semifinals.

Saint Mary's managed to keep it close until Page got hurt at 11:42 of first half, then went more than 6 minutes without a field goal against Gonzaga's aggressive man defense.

Olynyk brought the mostly pro-Gonzaga crowd to its feet by stripping Dellavedova and streaking in for a breakaway dunk, then Kevin Pangos kept the roar going with a jumper off another steal. Harris followed with another basket on the break, putting the Bulldogs up 33-21 and the fans back on their feet.

Gonzaga kept making shots and led 38-29 at halftime after shooting 16 of 25 from the floor.

Dellavedova, who went 2 for 12 in the semifinals, barely had room to move against Gary Bell Jr.'s in-the-jersey defense, scoring two points on 1-of-4 shooting. The Gaels went 3 of 16 from 3-point range in the half.

"Jordy is an important part of our team and it didn't help us him going out," Dellavedova said.

Gonzaga didn't let up in the second half.

Olynyk opened with a basket inside, Bell put the Zags up 43-29 with a 3-pointer from the wing and Olynyk later put a punctuation mark on the runaway, soaring for a one-handed dunk over Brad Waldow that made it a 19-point lead.

Gonzaga rolled from there, a performance they hope is good enough for a No. 1 seed.

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