It was a blowout for the first 25 minutes and a dogfight for the last 15.
Gonzaga’s outstanding first half provided just enough cushion to outlast a stellar second half by Saint Mary’s. Kelly Olynyk and Kevin Pangos combined to score the last 16 points as the Bulldogs held off the rival Gaels 83-78 in front of 6,000 Thursday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Olynyk finished with 31 points and Pangos added 22 points for the ninth-ranked Bulldogs (16-1, 3-0 West Coast Conference), who won their seventh straight game. Saint Mary’s, which snapped Gonzaga’s streak of WCC regular-season men’s basketball titles at 11 last season, dropped to 12-4, 1-1.
“Everything was clicking in the first half,” forward Sam Dower said. “In the second half they basically just outplayed us, killed us on the boards and made it a game. But we got the win, and that’s the only thing that matters right now.”
Gonzaga led by 20 early in the second half. The Gaels’ Matthew Dellavedova, the 2012 WCC player of the year, was ineffective and sitting on the bench, but within 5 minutes Saint Mary’s had cut the deficit to single digits and they pulled within 3 points with 6 minutes remaining.
Stephen Holt, who scored 15 of his 23 points in the second half, sparked the Gaels’ comeback.
“They discovered some success by driving the ball,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Holt kind of went off on us. We didn’t do a very good job there, then the dam opened up and they started finding a lot of opportunities around the hoop that they weren’t finding at the start of the half.”
After the Gaels closed within 67-64, Olynyk’s layup and a key 3-pointer by Pangos restored Gonzaga’s lead to 77-69. Saint Mary’s charged back, pulling within 79-76 on Dellavedova’s 3-pointer with 1:20 left.
Dellavedova made two free throws to cut GU’s lead to one, but Olynyk answered with a pair of free throws with 13.1 seconds left. Dellavedova had an open look but misfired on a 3-pointer. Pangos sealed it with a pair of free throws.
“Down in Stillwater against Oklahoma State and tonight we have confidence that if the game is close we can pull it out,” said Olynyk, who became the first Zag since Adam Morrison in 2006 to have at least two 30-point games in the same season. “We’re not scared if the game is close.”
Dellavedova finished with 14 points on 4-of-15 shooting, including 2 of 9 on 3-pointers.
“I had some good looks, shots that I should hit, but I didn’t play very well,” he said. “Stephen did a great job getting us back in the game, really being aggressive and we picked up our defense. We just can’t let them get away in the first half because it’s going to be nearly impossible to make it up in the second.”
The Gaels outrebounded GU 39-27, including 16 offensive boards that led to a 20-6 edge in second-chance points.
“They came out fighting in the second half, changed their mentality and just played harder than they did in the first half,” said GU senior Elias Harris, who finished with 13 points and six rebounds.
Olynyk, who had 17 first-half points, yanked an offensive rebound away from a Saint Mary’s player underneath and scored on a layup to bump GU’s lead to 35-24 late in the first half.
The Bulldogs scored the last eight points of the half to take a 46-28 lead. It was one of Gonzaga’s best halves of the season. The Zags made 58.3 percent of their shots while limiting the Gaels to 31 percent.
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