MORAGA, Calif. – The Gonzaga Bulldogs are just two games into the 14-game West Coast Conference regular season, but they’ve already taken two large steps toward their 10th consecutive conference title.
Gonzaga snagged its second big road breakthrough, a wild 89-82 victory over Saint Mary’s viewed by an overflow crowd at 3,500-seat McKeon Pavilion late Thursday night. The 17th-ranked Bulldogs now own wins over Portland and the Gaels (15-3, 2-1), considered by most to be their primary challengers.
Thursday’s win was reminiscent of GU’s 81-78 victory over Portland last Saturday. The Bulldogs seemed to be in control, but were forced to hold off a late rally by their opponent. Gonzaga (13-3, 2-0 WCC) will try to make it 3 for 3 on the road in WCC play when it visits San Diego on Saturday.
“Saint Mary’s and Portland are great teams, especially at home,” senior guard Matt Bouldin said. “They both had a lot of momentum coming into league play. The way Saint Mary’s is playing right now, that win says something about us.”
With a handful of NBA scouts watching from the back row at the steamy pavilion, Gonzaga freshman forward Elias Harris put on a show that probably had the talent evaluators jotting down extensive notes. Harris poured in a season-high 31 points and grabbed 13 rebounds for his third double-double of the season.
“Extra fire? Yeah, because I knew Saint Mary’s is a top team in our conference and a big rivalry for us,” Harris said. “I just wanted to play well and push my team. Not just score. I wanted to do everything, play good defense and rebound. Just show everybody I can play.”
Junior guard Steven Gray, who had a subpar night against Portland, finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds for his first career double-double. He also had six assists and helped keep Gaels’ guard Matthew Dellavedova in check after the Australian torched GU for 15 first-half points.
“I had 17 rebounds once when I was a sophomore, and I haven’t been anywhere near that since,” Gray said.
Gonzaga dominated the boards 45-27. The Bulldogs’ 17 offensive rebounds led to an 18-6 advantage in second-chance points.
“They’re too good at scoring to give them another chance at it – and we did that over and over again,” Gaels coach Randy Bennett said.
Harris’ bank shot put Gonzaga in front 69-54 just past the midpoint of the second half, but the Gaels mounted a furious comeback, aided by several sloppy turnovers by the Zags. Riding Omar Samhan’s hot scoring hand, Saint Mary’s scored eight unanswered points to close within seven.
The Gaels kept the pressure on but the Bulldogs delivered key baskets, often by Harris, who hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key, a putback jam and jumper from the free-throw line to keep Gonzaga’s lead at eight, 82-74.
Bouldin, who finished with 22 points, hit a pair of free throws with 26.2 seconds left to extend GU’s lead to 86-80.
“Our offense won it for us,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “In the first half we played pretty good defense. Our offense was good in both halves. We just outscored them in the second half.”
Samhan, after a slow start, scored 25 of his 31 points in the second half. Dellavedova, whose four 3-pointers in the first half kept Saint Mary’s relatively close, finished with 23 points.
GU made 59.7 percent from the field but struggled at the free-throw line (12 of 22). Saint Mary’s, which never led and was only tied at 10-all, heated up in the second half to finish at 47.8 percent.
Gonzaga 89, Saint Mary’s 82
|Gonzaga (13-3, 2-0)||Min||M-A||M-A||O-T||A||PF||PTS|
Percentages: FG .597, FT .545. 3-Point Goals: 3-10, .300 (Bouldin 2-4, Harris 1-2, Gray 0-3, Arop 0-1). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 4 (Sacre 2, Goodson). Turnovers: 15 (Goodson 4, Bouldin 3, Harris 4, Gray 2, Team 2). Steals: 6 (Sacre, Bouldin, Harris 3, Foster). Technical Fouls: None.
Saint Mary’s(15-3, 2-1)
Percentages: FG .478, FT .800. 3-Point Goals: 8-20, .400 (Dellavedova 4-4, Steindl 0-3, Allen 0-4, McConnell 2-6, Page 2-3). Team Rebounds: 0. Blocked Shots: 4 (Steindl, Samhan 2, Young). Turnovers: 9 (Dellavedova, Allen 3, Samhan 2, Page, Young, Benson). Steals: 8 (Dellavedova 2, Steindl, Allen, McConnell 2, Samhan, Page). Technical Fouls: None.
Halftime–Gonzaga 45, Saint Mary’s 33. A–3,500.
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