SAN DIEGO – There was the tip-in, the midrange jumper, the drive around a taller defender and the jump shot over a shorter defender.
There was the 3-pointer from top of the key and the jump hook in the middle of the lane. There was free throws, layins, a putback jam, a two-handed dunk on an inbound pass and a rim-rattling alley-oop finish.
Freshman forward Elias Harris showed his vast collection of offensive moves while pouring in a season-high 31 points to lead the Bulldogs past Saint Mary’s 89-82 in Moraga, Calif., on Thursday. GU followers have seen this before from the 20-year-old German native in big games. He had 17 points against Michigan State, 24 versus Washington State, 19 against Illinois and 18 at Portland.
And all he wanted to talk about was defense and rebounding. The former was a concern as the Gaels lit up GU for 49 second-half points. The latter was one of the biggest keys to Gonzaga’s win as it claimed the boards 45-27 over a team that had been a WCC-leading plus-8.5 per game.
“We practice that every week, every day,” Harris said. “When we out-rebound the other team, we’re going to win. That’s what the coaches tell us and that’s what we believe.”
Harris hit several buckets to stymie Saint Mary’s comebacks.
“He was pretty special,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said, “and we needed every one of them.”
Harris said GU needs to clamp down on defense, starting with tonight’s contest against San Diego.
“We didn’t play well on defense in the second half, but we outscored them,” said Harris, who was credited with four dunks. “From my perspective, I would like us to defend for 40 minutes. That’s going to be the key to our success.”
Samhan-Sacre, part I
Omar Samhan nearly single-handedly brought Saint Mary’s back from a 15-point deficit in the second half. The senior center made 11 of 13 shots in the second half and finished with 31 points.
But his first points came the hard way when he was fouled as he tried to dunk following a Bulldogs turnover with 7:20 left in the first half.
Robert Sacre blocked the shot, but knocked Samhan into the stanchion. Tempers flared briefly and the officials huddled before assessing Sacre with a personal foul.
“(Sacre) said, ‘I wasn’t going to give you a dunk,’ ” said Samhan, who made both free throws. “I told him that I would have done the same thing. That’s a Saint Mary’s-Gonzaga play.”
Coming off one of the toughest games of his career, Bulldogs junior guard Steven Gray produced one of his best games. Gray had 14 points and 14 rebounds for his first career double-double. Make it a triple-double.
“He got a lot of 50-50 balls, maybe even some 30-70 balls,” Few said. “He got his hands on a ton of passes. I haven’t seen the deflections chart, but he probably had double digits and he was just a warrior on the glass. Plus 18 on the glass … and those guys are a good rebounding team.”
Gray had five assists in the first half and six for the game. He was coming off a two-point, two-rebound showing against the Pilots.
“I move on from all the games pretty quickly,” Gray said. “You don’t want to dwell on anything too long.
“Just like this game will be gone and we’ll be looking forward to San Diego.”
Gonzaga has won 23 consecutive WCC regular-season games. … Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett is 3-18 versus Gonzaga. … Reserve center Will Foster played just seven minutes, but he made them count. In a 35-second span in the second half, Foster made a tip-in, poked away an entry pass to force a Gaels turnover and blocked a shot. … Freshman guard Grant Gibbs (illness) didn’t play.