The two best teams and the two best players in the WCC went at it last night in an ear-splitting atmosphere.
Gonzaga created some separation between itself and Saint Mary's with a 77-60 victory at packed McKeon Pavilion, fueled by a dominating second half. And Kelly Olynyk put some separation between himself and Gaels guard Matthew Dellavedova in the WCC player of the year race.
GU is two games up on the Gaels in the loss column with five to play. SMC has four WCC games remaining.
Read on for my day-after post. Check back later for my GU-USF advance.
--When GU faces Saint Mary’s, the Zags’ first priority is defending the high ball screen that Dellavedova utilizes to score or set up his teammates. Dellavedova scored, sometimes at will in the first half, but often had to make contested shots to do so. He hit one from 24 feet just in front of Gonzaga’s bench with a defender in his face and Mark Few just a few feet behind him. Few was close enough that he probably could have blocked the shot from behind.
Dellavedova had 19 points by half, but was just 1 of 6 from the field in the second half. GU blanketed the senior guard with double teams and/or hard hedges and his teammates, other than Stephen Holt, were ineffective. At one point, Holt took over at point guard and Dellavedova was stationed in the corner for the drive-and-kick. Holt scored seven straight and nine of SMC’s 12 points to spark a comeback.
Dellavedova tried feeding Mitchell Young, Jorden Page, James Walker and Jordan Giusti. Those four were 1 of 13 from distance. Only Beau Levesque, who was 2 of 2, made GU pay but he was in early foul trouble and was fairly quiet most of the game.
“No question (job 1) is taking the ball out of his hands but you have to do it in a certain way or he’ll pick you apart,” Few said. “We did a great job with that. We had a bunch of different coverages we were doing and guys did an excellent job from preparing all week and taking it on the floor.”
The Gaels had displayed better offensive balance in conference play but that was missing last night. SMC tried to adjust with a new screening wrinkle, but GU had an answer in the second half.
“That’s a hard shot, coming off a ball screen one way and re-screening,” Few said. “We had a plan for that and they kind of got away from us, but we talked about the adjustment on the re-screen (at half) and really tried to bottle him up in the second half.”
--Can’t remember a game where Gonzaga hit so many key shots with time dwindling on the shot clock. It seemed non-stop for most of the final 10 minutes. Those will-breaking shots finally turned down the noise in McKeon, save for a small but vocal group of GU supporters.
“It’s a mature approach,” guard Kevin Pangos said. “We didn’t rush when the shot clock was going down, when it got to 5 or 6. The one that sticks out was the one Kelly passed to Sam (Dower). He could have easily shot that, but he knew the time and didn’t rush it and he got it to Sam.”
Dower buried a baseline jumper and GU led by 12 with 3:05 left.
--McKeon is a small gym so the noise makes two or three laps around the building when SMC hits key shots. There had to be an extra 400-500 fans crammed into standing-room only beyond the 3,500 listed as capacity. It is probably louder than Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse and Oklahoma State’s Gallagher-Iba Arena because of the logistics inside the tiny gym. It had to be 85-90 degrees upstairs in press row.
“The sound just reverberates off the ceiling and walls,” wing Mike Hart said.
GU has played some of its best basketball in the most hostile environments – at Butler, at Oklahoma State, at Saint Mary’s. Gonzaga even pulled out a win at WSU’s Friel Court on Pangos’ last-second bucket.
--Thursday night was not a game for the meek. Few talked about making “tough plays” at length. Rebounds in traffic were the order of the day and Gonzaga got more than its share, winning the boards 37-25. There is nothing on the stat sheet to reflect floor burns, but I suspect Gonzaga outnumbered SMC there as well. The Bulldogs came up with the majority of 50-50 balls.
Hart has an uncanny knack for tracking down loose balls and off-target shots.
“It’s a great win because of how we did it,” Few said. “We made tough plays on offense and defense. Some of the rebounds Kevin and Gary (Bell Jr.) were digging out were tough-guy plays. We’ve been challenging them.”
--It was the kind of night that virtually everyone who played for Gonzaga contributed to the win, led by the starting five.
Bell was 4 of 4 from long distance in the second half when he scored 16 of his career-high equaling 20 points. Pangos’ 3-point shot wasn’t dropping, but he countered with some floaters and drives to the rim. He made 9 of 10 free throws, grabbed six boards and had three assists in 37 turnover-free minutes.
Hart seemed to grab every key offensive rebound. He finished with five offensive boards and six overall. He added five points, two assists and two steals. Elias Harris tried to take advantage when matched up against the smaller Levesque, but struggled to finish in the lane. Still, he pulled down nine rebounds to go with seven points and two assists.
Olynyk carried Gonzaga early, scoring 12 of his 17 points in the first half. He made 2 of 3 3-pointers, grabbed seven rebounds and handed out two assists.
The bench was productive in limited time. Dower had four points and Drew Barham made one of the game's biggest baskets -- a crucial 3 -- to slow a Saint Mary’s rally. Przemek Karnowski only played three minutes, but he had two boards and made 1 of 2 free throws.
STATS OF NOTE
--As the Chronicle’s Steve Kroner pointed out, Saint Mary’s is 2-4 against Gonzaga and 35-1 against the rest of the WCC at McKeon over the past six seasons. SMC was 13-0 at home this season before falling to GU.
--Gonzaga made 20 of 24 free throws, Saint Mary’s just 2 of 5.
--Gonzaga hit 58 percent of its second-half shots to finish at 50 percent overall. SMC dropped to 33.3 percent in the second half and 39.7 percent overall.
--SMC outscored Gonzaga 50-37 in Spokane. GU returned the favor 45-27 last night.
--Points in the paint: GU 25-16. Second-chance points: GU 11-4. Fastbreak points: GU 9-0.
--Bell (16), Pangos (11) and Barham (3) had 30 of GU’s 45 second-half points.
Bell, on the series of baskets late in the shot clock: “We wanted to run clock but we were still trying to be aggressive and we wanted to get good shots on our terms.”
Olynyk, on narrowly missing a 28-foot 3-point attempt: “I really thought it was in.”
Olynyk: “Basketball is a game of runs. We went on a run in the first half and they countered. We started with a nice run in the second half and they brought it back to four. The guys got stops when we needed to and made big plays when we needed to. The guys that came off the bench were ready. They were taking away shots from certain people so you swing it that one extra time and those guys came in ready to knock those down.”
Hart, on his 10-footer to beat the shot-clock buzzer with 2 minutes left: “I drove a little more than I have in other games so I was comfortable with the ball in my hands and making the aggressive play.”
SMC coach Randy Bennett: “That stretch (when GU went on a 20-4 to open the second half) was bad, no excuses. Then you’re digging yourselves out a hole. You can’t keep playing that way. We tried to play through it, but we couldn’t get over the top again.”