By Jim Meehan
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PROVO, Utah – The Gonzaga Bulldogs stated their case for the No. 1 ranking in college basketball by doing what they’ve done for most of the season.
The Bulldogs defended, took care of the ball and repeatedly came up with clutch baskets. Kelly Olynyk had another solid game. GU’s deep bench contributed 18 points.
Gonzaga needed all of the above to overcome a sluggish night offensively and the second-ranked Bulldogs held off BYU 70-65 Thursday at a raucous Marriott Center.
And the Bulldogs got help elsewhere.
Earlier in the week, No. 1 Indiana lost to Minnesota. Shortly before Gonzaga tipped off against BYU, Virginia’s upset of No. 3 Duke went final, clearing a path for GU to the top spot with a win over the Cougars and another against Portland on Saturday.
The Bulldogs (28-2, 15-0 WCC) got the first part of the job done, holding off a late BYU charge to clinch an outright WCC championship. GU never trailed and led 54-43 with 10:50 remaining, but the Cougars pulled even at 60 with three straight 3-pointers – two by Brock Zylstra and Craig Cusick’s 3 just before the shot-clock expired – and a pair of Brandon Davies free throws.
Elias Harris powered inside for a basket to give Gonzaga a 63-60 lead, but Davies connected on a putback with 2:49 left.
It remained that way as BYU missed four field-goal attempts and GU had a turnover, an errant 3-pointer and a missed free throw. Finally, Olynyk made a 10-footer in the lane and Gonzaga had a 65-62 lead with 43 seconds remaining.
BYU (20-10, 9-6) misfired twice and Mike Hart grabbed a defensive rebound in traffic. Kevin Pangos made two free throws and GU’s lead was 67-62. Cusick made three free throws and Harris hit 1 of 2 foul shots to keep GU in front 68-65 with 6.6 seconds left.
Gonzaga elected to foul before BYU could attempt a tying 3-pointer. Cusick missed the first free throw and Harris made two free throws to seal Gonzaga’s 11thconsecutive win.
Olynyk finished with 19 points and Gary Bell Jr. hit four 3s and scored 15 points. GU made a season-low 41.5 percent of its shots. Tyler Haws scored 19 points to lead BYU, which made only 36.5 percent from the field.