MORAGA, Calif. – Gonzaga spent most of the first half building up a nice lead only to see Saint Mary’s make a late push to take a one-point halftime lead.
Gonzaga spent most of the second half reconstructing another nice lead only to see the Gaels fight back again.
This time Gonzaga dug in with key defensive stops and daggers at the offensive end by Gary Bell Jr., Drew Barham, Sam Dower and Mike Hart, leading the fifth-ranked Bulldogs to a convincing 77-60 men’s basketball victory Thursday viewed by a crowd well in excess of the 3,500-seat capacity at McKeon Pavilion.
“Our guys had to make tough plays, really tough plays all night and we did that,” GU coach Mark Few said. “We didn’t buckle after their barrage at the end of the first half. I told our guys, ‘We did a lot of good things. We rebounded well, defended well, took care of the ball and ran good offense.’
“We came out and did the same thing in the second half.”
Gonzaga (24-2, 11-0 WCC) is in the driver’s seat in the WCC race with a two-game lead over Saint Mary’s (21-5, 10-2) in the loss column. The Bulldogs put together one of their finest efforts of the season to claim their seventh straight victory and a sweep of two regular-season games with the Gaels, who are still searching for a resume-building win to bolster their NCAA tournament at-large hopes.
“That was the only thing on my mind, the league title,” GU guard Kevin Pangos said. “We would have been in a tough situation if we lost. We still have to stay focused, but we’re in a better situation now.”
The Zags dialed up their running game to take control with a 20-4 burst in the first 5:20 of the second half. Bell hit a 3-pointer to put the Bulldogs on top to stay.
“We spotted them about 12 points to start the second half and you can’t do that against a team like that,” Gaels coach Randy Bennett said.
Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris both converted transition opportunities and Pangos made a 3-pointer from the corner. Bell added a layup and 3-pointer, Harris made two free throws and Olynyk drained a 3-pointer with time dwindling on the shot clock to extend Gonzaga’s lead to 52-37.
“When you work so hard for 30 seconds, you think you have them under control and someone makes an amazing shot it’s really deflating,” said Olynyk, who had 17 points and seven rebounds. “Those are the plays that win games.”
Saint Mary’s didn’t go away. With Matthew Dellavedova bottled up after a 19-point first half, Stephen Holt connected on seven straight points to cut into Gonzaga’s lead. Dellavedova’s only basket of the second half – a 3-pointer – ignited the crowd and pulled the Gaels within four.
Barham’s 3-pointer and Pangos’ floater restored GU’s lead to nine. Bell’s 3 from the top of the key, Dower’s jumper late in the shot clock and Hart’s off-balance 10-footer, again just before time ran out on the shot clock, put Gonzaga in front by 11.
Bell equaled his career high with 20 points, 16 in the second half. Pangos added 18 points, six rebounds and three assists. Harris grabbed nine rebounds as the Zags won the boards 37-25, turning around SMC’s 39-27 advantage last month.
“They were way more aggressive in the first half,” Bell said. “They kind of sagged off me in the second and I had some open shots.”
Guarded or unguarded, Dellavedova made shots from all over the court in the first 20 minutes. He finished with 22 points, but just three in the second half. Holt had 17 points but the Gaels made just 39.7 percent of their shots.
“Dellavedova knows how to get space, get an arm into you but not enough to have refs call it,” said Hart, who spent many of his 28 minutes chasing the senior guard. “We did a pretty good job of directing shots to other guys.”
“They beat us on the boards, they beat us on field-goal percentage,” Bennett said. “They beat us.”