Gonzaga has a glossy record, lofty ranking and considerable buzz nationally, but Saint Mary’s has something that the Bulldogs want back.
“We’re not the champions, they’re the champions,” said junior forward Kelly Olynyk, referring to the Gaels ending Gonzaga’s run of 11 consecutive WCC regular-season titles last year. “So we should be even hungrier.”
The ninth-ranked Bulldogs (15-1, 2-0 WCC) entertain the Gaels (12-3, 1-0) tonight at 8 at the McCarthey Athletic Center. BYU (12-4, 2-0) is the only other unbeaten after the opening week of conference play. The next eight weeks will determine if the Zags return to the top of the WCC, the Gaels add another year to their modest streak or somebody else unseats the two WCC powers.
Saint Mary’s has won four of the last seven against Gonzaga, dating to the 2010 WCC Tournament championship. The Gaels won last year’s WCC Tournament title by knocking off Gonzaga and in 2011 they became just the second WCC team to beat the Bulldogs at the MAC. The teams shared the 2011 regular-season crown.
“It’s been on our minds,” junior forward Sam Dower said. “It was the first time in a while we haven’t been conference champs and we had the team to be conference champs so we were kind of disappointed.”
The Gaels return four starters, headlined by 2012 WCC player of the year Matthew Dellavedova. The 6-foot-4 senior guard averages 17.4 points and a WCC-leading 6.7 assists. He makes 42 percent of his 3-point attempts and 90.6 percent of his free throws.
In the Gaels’ three losses, opponents limited Dellavedova’s scoring (five points vs. Georgia Tech, nine vs. Northern Iowa) or assists (one vs. Pacific). He had a tough night Dec. 31 against Harvard (1 of 13 field goals, four points and nine assists), but the Gaels rallied from an 18-point deficit to win 70-69.
“We’re not going to play a team that puts the ball in (one player’s) hands more than they do with him, even more so than Santa Clara with (Kevin) Foster,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “I watched him making plays on the ‘Dream Team’ (in the 2012 Olympics).”
Sophomore Gary Bell Jr., among others, will probably defend Dellavedova, who averages 36.6 minutes per game.
“He might be a harder guard (than Foster) because he’s coming off so many ball screens,” Bell said. “Getting through them and getting banged, I’ll have to wear my pads for this game.”
Dellavedova triggers an offense that averages 79.5 points per game. Guards James Walker III (10.1 ppg, 52 percent on 3-pointers), Stephen Holt (10.8 ppg) and Jorden Page (7.9 ppg, 39 percent on 3s) and forwards Beau Levesque (9.9 ppg, 38 percent on 3s), Brad Waldow (9.9 ppg, 63 percent field goals) and Mitchell Young (7.0 ppg, 5.6 rebounds) round out the offense.