A convincing case could be made that Gonzaga’s defense paved the way for an 83-63 men’s basketball victory over BYU on Thursday night.
Then again, the same could be said for the Bulldogs’ offense, powered by the 51 combined points of forwards Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris.
The 10th-ranked Bulldogs (18-2, 5-0 WCC) dominated at both ends of the floor in front of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center to maintain their hold on first place in the conference. Saint Mary’s, which routed San Diego, is 5-1. BYU (15-6 overall) dropped to 5-2 and has lost three straight to the Bulldogs, all by double figures.
Olynyk didn’t miss a shot – 9 of 9 field goals, 8 of 8 free throws – en route to 26 points. Harris made 8 of 11 field goals, 9 of 13 free throws and finished with a season-high 25 points and 10 rebounds. Olynyk had nine boards and a team-high five assists. Gonzaga made 57 percent of its shots, its highest of the season against a D-I opponent.
“My teammates gave me the ball where my strength is and that’s a great team effort,” Harris said. “It takes a great team to recognize scenarios like that.”
Harris was equally effective at the defensive end, limiting BYU forward Brandon Davies to two first-half points. Davies finished with 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting.
“I thought ‘E’ was special tonight,” GU coach Mark Few said. “When he plays with that kind of effort and he’s that bouncy and he plays that athletic, he’s a special, special player.”
Sophomore guard Tyler Haws, BYU’s leading scorer at 21.6 points per game, had a miserable night operating against the defense of Gary Bell Jr. and the Bulldogs’ alert help defense. Haws finished 0 of 9 from the field and scored his only point on a free throw with 7:35 left in the second half. Haws, who had a 42-point game against Virginia Tech, had been in double figures in 19 of BYU’s previous 20 games.
“I just tried to limit his touches,” Bell said. “Our length really helped us out. If he thought about shooting, it seemed like Kelly or Elias or Sam (Dower) was right there and going to block it. He had to change his shots a lot and pass it out.”
Gonzaga took control early, bolting in front 21-10 after Harris’ basket in the lane. A 12-0 run hiked the Zags’ lead to 36-14 before they settled for a 40-21 edge at half.
The Bulldogs were cruising at 57-35, but BYU started cutting into the lead with a trapping, extended zone defense that forced numerous GU turnovers. Davies heated up offensively and the Cougars pulled within 12 with 7:35 left.
Olynyk made a pair of field goals and then the 7-footer fed Harris and Bell for layups to extend Gonzaga’s lead to 72-57.
BYU, which shoots 46 percent from the field and averages 78.3 points per game, made just 35.6 percent, including 4 of 17 3-pointers (23.5 percent).
“Easily our best defensive effort of the season,” Few said. “We were high energy, we were physical, covering for each other, blocking shots at the rim, rebounding, only giving them one-and-out. We ended up with 42 deflections, which is a huge number.”
Kevin Pangos made four of Gonzaga’s six 3-pointers and finished with 12 points. Led by Harris and Olynyk, the Bulldogs outscored BYU 42-28 in points in the paint.
“They’re both great players, both all-league guys and you’ve got to give them credit,” Davies said. “It was a real physical game throughout; they just continued to battle. And they’re deep as well. They have bigs that can come in and hold their own. That’s what good teams have.”
Gonzaga entertains San Francisco on Saturday.