SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Seven days, more than 3,500 air miles, four different hotels, three opponents with a combined record of 30-9.
And three large wins.
Gonzaga’s weeklong road odyssey came to a successful conclusion courtesy of Kelly Olynyk, who poured in a career-high 33 points to carry the 10th-ranked Bulldogs to an 81-74 men’s basketball victory Saturday at a raucous Leavey Center, stuffed with a record crowd of 4,907.
“That was a great road trip, probably the best I’ve been on in 25 years,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said. “That was a very inspired, spirited and much improved Santa Clara team. We withstood all their shots and got it done.”
Some of those shots came from an overflow crowd, where the student section kept serenading Olynyk with chants of, “Get a haircut.” He kept tuning up Santa Clara’s defense, knocking down 12 of 15 shots and 8 of 9 free throws to eclipse his career-best 22 points against Washington State a month ago.
“Best I’ve ever seen him play,” forward Elias Harris said. “He was hitting every shot, he drove to the hoop, rebounding. He did everything you can do in a basketball game.”
“To do it in that type of environment and put the team on his back was great,” guard Kevin Pangos said. “We just had to keep feeding him, it wasn’t complicated.”
In the WSU game and a few others, including Oklahoma State last Sunday, Olynyk put on second-half scoring clinics. Against Santa Clara (12-4), Olynyk put Gonzaga on the scoreboard when he dunked off the opening tip.
“I was finally able to put two halves together of similar caliber,” Olynyk said. “Coach (Ray) Giacoletti came up to me before the game and said, ‘We need you right from the start.’ I took that to heart and really attacked. And then he came up before second half and said, ‘Now we need your second half.’ ”
Gonzaga (15-1) needed all of its composure, 55.3 percent field-goal shooting and 90 percent free-throw accuracy to hold off several Santa Clara rallies. Senior guard Kevin Foster, who had 36 points in a Broncos’ win over GU two years ago, had 17 by halftime but the Bulldogs maintained a 41-34 lead.
Foster scored the first six points of the second half and Marc Trasolini followed with the next six as Santa Clara closed within 52-51. David Stockton threw a behind-his-head pass to Sam Dower for a layup, sparking a 10-0 run that gave GU breathing room.
The Broncos wouldn’t go away, pulling within four points three times. Olynyk answered each time, first with a pair of free throws, then on a layup off Mike Hart’s pass and finally with a putback of a Pangos miss.
“You can’t let a guy come in and have a career night in your own gym,” Broncos coach said Kerry Keating said. “We had to keep trying to find ways to stop him and we didn’t.”
Foster finished with 29 points, but made just 10 of 24 shots, including 2 of 12 3-pointers, some launched from 25 feet. Trasolini had 19 points, but Evan Roquemore, Foster’s back-court running mate, made just 2 of 10 shots.
“He (Foster) has the ultimate green light and they keep running stuff for him over and over,” said Hart, one of several Zags who guarded Foster. “As long as he’s shooting below 50 percent, he’s not hitting 3s every time and we get the ‘W’, I can live with that.”
Harris finished with 14 points, Bell added 12 and Dower chipped in eight. Pangos, who experienced some blurred vision after getting poked in the eye inadvertently by Roquemore in the opening minutes, had six points and four rebounds.
“We’re in the most difficult part of the schedule that I’ve ever been part of,” said Few, citing an upcoming stretch with Saint Mary’s visit on Thursday, followed by a road trip to Portland and Butler. “It started with Baylor on Dec. 28th, they have some of the best athletes in college basketball, and it went through Stillwater and L.A. and here (Santa Clara). I’ve never seen anything like this. So far so good.”
Percentages: FG .553, FT .900. 3-Point Goals: 2-9, .222 (Olynyk 1-1, Stockton 1-2, Harris 0-1, Bell, Jr. 0-2, Pangos 0-3). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 2 (Olynyk 2). Turnovers: 9 (Olynyk 2, Stockton 2, Bell, Jr. 2, Pangos, Harris, Dower). Steals: 5 (Bell, Jr. 2, Stockton, Hart, Dower).
Percentages: FG .410, FT .773. 3-Point Goals: 7-23, .304 (Clark 2-2, Foster 2-12, Trasolini 1-2, Cowels III 1-2, Roquemore 1-5). Team Rebounds: 0. Blocked Shots: 4 (Trasolini 2, Clark, Cowels III). Turnovers: 8 (Foster 2, Roquemore 2, Clark 2, Garrett, Trasolini). Steals: 5 (Foster 3, Roquemore, Cowels III).
Halftime—Gonzaga 41-34. A—4,907.