SEATTLE – Prior to the Battle in Seattle, Gonzaga held a prelude during the week: Battles in Practice.
The Bulldogs, stung by their first defeat of the season last week to Illinois, dialed up the intensity during practice and carried it onto the court, roughing up Kansas State 68-52 in front of 16,241 Saturday at KeyArena.
Junior forward Kelly Olynyk scored 20 minutes before fouling out after 19 minutes of playing time. The 14th-ranked Bulldogs (10-1) held a 38-12 edge in points in the paint. They handled Kansas State, No. 14 nationally in rebounding margin, 33-26 on the boards.
“It was a pretty long week,” said Olynyk, who made 10 of 13 shots. “People were going at it but it was good for us to get back to that because that’s how we were before the season. During the season we kind of dipped away from that and got a little soft or more finesse.”
Added senior forward Elias Harris, who had 10 points and seven rebounds: “Practice was really tough, (with) fights in practice. Really fighting and that’s the right mentality. That’s how it should be.”
Gonzaga, 6-4 at the Battle in Seattle, is off to its first 10-1 start since the 2004-05 season.
The Bulldogs relied on their inside game, and mainly Olynyk, after getting just five points from the 1, 2 and 3 positions in the first half. GU led by six but the Wildcats struck for a four-point play (Angel Rodriguez’s trey while being fouled) and Will Spradling’s 3-pointer to pull within 27-26 at half.
Wing Mike Hart got the starting nod for GU in the second half and immediately forced two turnovers by Rodney McGruder, who came in averaging a team-high 12.9 points but suffered through a miserable 1-for-9 shooting, five-turnover night.
“I was just trying to create something and make something happen,” said Hart, who finished with five boards. “I was trying to pressure him and get him a little uncomfortable.”
Olynyk had three baskets and Kevin Pangos added a layup and an assist as Gonzaga stretched its lead to 36-26. Others got into the act as Sam Dower took a pass from David Stockton for a layup, Gary Bell Jr. made a pair of free throws and Guy Landry Edi connected on a 3-pointer.
Olynyk’s dunk boosted Gonzaga’s lead to 14, but only for a few seconds. He was called for a technical foul for taunting, but the Wildcats never mounted a serious challenge.
“They didn’t really double (team), but at the start we just got ahead of ourselves,” Olynyk said. “We had to make moves on our terms and elevate over them because they have some pretty good shot-blockers and length.”
Olynyk continues to demonstrate a variety of moves, scoring on the low block or with dribble penetration from the high post. He buried an 8-foot fallaway jumper for good measure.
“We were trying to tell people that before he got active this year because I think people only recognize the old Kelly,” Hart said. “They don’t know the new Kelly, but I think they’re starting to see it game after game.”
Rodriguez and Spradling combined for 18 first-half points but just four in the second half. The Wildcats (7-2) had 18 turnovers and made just 33.3 percent of their shots.
“We needed to get back to who we are,” GU coach Mark Few said. “Different teams make you do different things and Illinois had some big guys that could really shoot 3s and that changed up our ball-screen coverage. Tonight we probably hit our ball-screen coverage 90 percent of the time. Against Illinois, it was probably 40-50 percent.”
Few enjoyed a couple of hustle plays in particular: Stockton diving and flying out of bounds in pursuit of a loose ball and several Zags hitting the floor for a 50-50 ball in front of Kansas State’s bench.
“I told those guys (in the locker room) that’s why there was 16,000-plus in here because Gonzaga plays that way,” Few said.
Percentages: FG .333, FT .737. 3-Point Goals: 6-18, .333 (Rodriguez 3-7, Spradling 2-5, Irving 1-2, Southwell 0-1, McGruder 0-3). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 5 (Johnson 2, Lawrence, Henriquez, McGruder). Turnovers: 18 (McGruder 5, Gipson 3, Rodriguez 2, Diaz 2, Henriquez 2, Johnson, Southwell, Irving, Spradling). Steals: 6 (Southwell 2, Rodriguez 2, Gipson, Spradling). Technical Fouls: Rodriguez, Bench.
Percentages: FG .471, FT .850. 3-Point Goals: 3-12, .250 (Landry Edi 1-1, Pangos 1-3, Bell, Jr. 1-3, Hart 0-1, Harris 0-1, Barham 0-1, Stockton 0-2). Team Rebounds: 6. Blocked Shots: 5 (Dower 2, Karnowski, Stockton, Harris). Turnovers: 14 (Olynyk 3, Harris 2, Pangos 2, Karnowski 2, Landry Edi, Bell, Jr., Stockton, Dower, Dranginis). Steals: 6 (Harris 2, Bell, Jr., Stockton, Hart, Dower). Technical Fouls: None.
Halftime—Gonzaga 27-26. A—16,241.