Feels strange to wake up in my own bed on a Sunday morning after a Saturday road game. With Gonzaga's 1:30 Saturday matinee against San Francisco, I was able to catch a flight to Seattle -- where I filed my game story around 8ish -- and then on to Spokane about midnight.
Interesting game at USF's War Memorial Gym as Gonzaga put on a clinic early, endured a Dons' rally and put the game away with a solid final 7 minutes. The result, a 71-61 victory at a building where Gonzaga had dropped its last three games vs. USF.
--As USF coach Rex Walters acknowledged afterward, his team simply didn’t have the size and strength to match up with Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris. Olynyk torched USF for 26 points, Harris added 17.
Olynyk missed his only two 3-point attempts, but made nearly everything else. He was 13 of 17, and he fetched one of his misses for a putback basket. He continues to display a wide array of moves.
“The thing he did better today, against Saint Mary’s he was starting drives from 20 feet,” coach Mark Few said. “He’s much better when he starts from 10, 12 feet. When their guards are getting into our guards and we’re maybe not handling it great, we can kind of break down pressure with our ‘4’ (Harris) or ‘5’ (Olynyk). That’s nice to have.”
--USF tried to play physical defense on GU’s guards and bigs, which is standard operating procedure for Gonzaga opponents.
“Everybody is trying to play physical with us,” Harris said.
When Olynyk was whistled for an offensive foul in the first half, USF’s De’End Parker got in Olynyk’s face and the two exchanged words. Avry Holmes bumped Olynyk as he was leaving the floor for a timeout.
“I think they were trying to get me riled up and do something stupid and get me out of the game,” Olynyk said. “We can’t back down. We can’t get pushed around. I think they were just trying to stir something up.”
--Drew Barham continues to emerge as a key player off the bench. The junior wing made just 1 of 4 3-pointers, but he added five rebounds, a pair of free throws and two blocked shots. He made several hustle plays reminiscent of teammate Mike Hart.
“I learned from the best, huh,” Barham said. “I watch Mike every day and play against Mike every day and see how it helps our team. That’s what they’ve been telling me: Do something else beside shoot. Sometimes my shooting will be on, sometimes it won’t, but I can still space the floor and stay on the court if I do other things.”
--Few talks about it before his team goes on the road in the WCC conference: Every foe brings its best effort against GU. And other than Loyola Marymount, which brought its best effort against GU in
That helps explain why a Dons team coming off a home loss to
“Very spirited (effort by USF), they played extremely hard and extremely opportunistic,” Few said. “If the home team plays with that kind of effort and makes shots from 3, then sometimes the breaks fall your way. We’ve had some crazy things happen to us here.”
Few recounted those unusual plays from GU’s three losses at USF the previous three years. The Dons stayed close because of their effort, not necessarily their execution. Gonzaga had all the gaudy stats: made 10 of first 12 shots, no turnovers in the first nine minutes and just two in the first half, no fouls in the first nine minutes, limited USF to 32-percent shooting. And the score was just 34-27 at half.
When USF pulled even at 45 and 47, some began to wonder if the Zags were heading toward another setback at War Memorial. Not Harris.
“When I actually caught that ball sitting on the ground (on a second-half rebound), I thought, ‘Things are going our way a little bit,’ but I don’t know if that was the play to make it clear (it was GU’s night)," he said. "It was a grinder, all the way to the end.”
GU has been pretty solid at the end of close games.
“We’ve been in tight games, tough environments,” Harris said. “We should have all the confidence in the world to extend the lead and go after it.”
STATS OF NOTE
--In two games vs. USF, Olynyk has 39 points and 21 rebounds. Harris has 29 points and 24 boards.
--Gonzaga committed just 10 turnovers, nine by bigs (Olynyk four, Harris five). Barham had the other turnover.
--GU dominated points in the paint (38-26).
--Olynyk swatted three shots, two in GU’s decisive surge in the closing 4 minutes.
--USF had success from long distance early (5 of 12 in the first half), but was just 2 of 11 in the second half.
--The Dons had 16 personal fouls in the second half.
--Olynyk made 13 field goals. The rest of the Zags made 14 (half of those by Harris).
--Mike Hart led GU in assists with 3.
--GU’s last four WCC wins have been by double digits. Nine of Gonzaga’s 12 conference wins have been by double digits.
Few, on Olynyk: “He’s a very skilled, cerebral basketball player. When he takes what the defense gives him, he’s a 7-foot guy that can play under control and is skilled. That’s an advantage, and he helps you when teams are pressuring out like they were tonight.”
Olynyk: “It’s a huge win for us, for our conference and our season to keep things going. It was a great road trip, to win back-to-back games that are really tough to get. It’s nice to overcome the curse (of War Memorial), or whatever you want to call it.”
Few, on GU’s defense: “They made some runs. We had some bonehead plays, actually from guys coming off the bench, leaving Doolin or not picking up some of the switches we were doing. The guys that were in at the end (Olynyk, Harris, Pangos,