The Gonzaga Bulldogs probably set a season high for standing ovations Wednesday night.
Some of the biggest praise came afterward from head coach Mark Few.
The third-ranked Bulldogs dominated in just about every way possible, crushing Santa Clara 85-42 in front of a full house of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center. Gonzaga (26-2, 13-0 WCC) can clinch at least a share of the WCC title and the top seed in the conference tournament with a win over San Diego on Saturday.
“Outstanding effort by our guys, probably the best I’ve ever seen in this building as far as our defense, our rebounding and, heck, even our offensive execution,” Few said. “I have no complaints there.”
Santa Clara (19-9, 7-6) scored the game’s first two points. Gonzaga scored the next 15. The Bulldogs added runs of 7-0 and 10-0, making it a 44-15 runaway at halftime. Late in the first half, Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk had scored 12 points, Elias Harris 10 and Santa Clara’s team had nine.
The Bulldogs compiled an assortment of highlights: Olynyk going baseline for a soaring one-handed dunk; Harris scoring on a nifty reverse layup and on a left-handed hook shot; and Olynyk poking the ball away from Santa Clara’s Kevin Foster near midcourt for a breakaway two-handed dunk.
But the loudest ovations were for senior wing Mike Hart, who brought the crowd to its feet by hustling down a pair of offensive rebounds that led to a Harris’ basket with 6:04 remaining in the first half.
“That was pretty sweet,” said Hart, who made a pair of 3-pointers and grabbed seven rebounds. “I’m appreciative of the fans that they understand how that helps the game and helps our team, knowledgeable fans that appreciate the little things.”
Roughly 2 minutes later, Hart snagged an offensive rebound on Gary Bell Jr.’s missed free throw. GU missed two more shots but collected the offensive boards and Olynyk capitalized with a layup, extending the Zags’ lead to 34-9.
“Mike been doing that forever,” Bell said. “Now he’s teaching Drew (Barham) and he’s starting to get on the glass. Mike is one of a kind.”
Hart drew the defensive assignment on Foster, who averages 18.4 points per game and ranks third on the WCC’s all-time scoring list. Foster, one of SCU’s four 1,000-point career scorers along with Marc Trasolini, Evan Roquemore and Raymond Cowels III, made just 2 of 10 field goals and finished with four points. The foursome combined for just 17 points on 8-of-31 shooting.
“Five guys committed to defense,” said Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos, who guarded Roquemore. “There’s no way you can completely take away their space, but when they did get space we had help. When we’re playing like that, with that energy, our defense is great.”
Gonzaga stretched its lead to 30 early in the second half. The margin grew to 40 on Bell’s 3-pointer with 11:48 left. The Bulldogs made 57 percent of their shots and outscored SCU 50-16 in the paint. GU dominated the boards 45-22.
“The best thing was it wasn’t for 15 minutes, 25 minutes,” Few said. “It was for 40 minutes.”
Harris finished with 17 points and nine rebounds. Olynyk added 14 points and seven boards and Sam Dower chipped in 11 points. Eleven Zags scored and 13 played.
“It’s a great group that cares about each other and roots for each other,” Few said. “When they’re getting contributions from everybody, obviously they enjoy that.”
Reserve guard Brandon Clark paced Santa Clara with 14 points. The Broncos’ 42 points were their fewest against Gonzaga in the 79-game series.
“They outhustled us, outworked us, outplayed us,” SCU coach Kerry Keating said, “and solidified their position, obviously, as one of the best teams in the country.”