LAS VEGAS – The inside tandem of Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris. The offensive efficiency with 52-percent shooting and just eight turnovers.
The lock-down defense that muzzled standout point guard Matthew Dellavedova and limited Saint Mary’s to a season-low 51 points.
You didn’t think the Gonzaga Bulldogs were going to change the way they operate after winning 29 regular-season games and climbing to No. 1 in the polls, did you?
The Bulldogs put together 40 more convincing minutes to support their bid for an NCAA tournament No. 1 seed, pounding Saint Mary’s 65-51 Monday to win the WCC tournament championship in front of 7,896 fans, most wearing Gonzaga gear, at the Orleans Arena.
“I guess that’s how it’s supposed to look when we have Kelly and me going, and if the double-team comes, find our guards,” said Harris, voted the tournament’s most valuable player. “This inside-out action is what makes this team so good.”
Olynyk had his fourth career double-double with 21 points and a career-high 12 boards. Harris, who had 21 points in the semifinal win over Loyola Marymount, added 19 points, four boards and three assists.
After Olynyk soared to collect a David Stockton pass and dunk over Brad Waldow, Gonzaga was shooting 69 percent and held a 53-34 lead.
“They’re the best (inside duo) we’ve had,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, whose team is 31-2. “(Ronny) Turiaf was a great passer, some of our other bigs were really adept at that, but those two really play off that. Kind of lost in this great season Kelly has had is ‘E’s’ unselfishness. A lot of Kelly’s opportunities have come off Elias’ dimes.”
Gonzaga’s defense was just as impressive. Dellavedova had seven assists, but made only 1 of 8 field-goal attempts and scored two points, his lowest output of the season. Stephen Holt, much as he did in the first matchup in Spokane, carried the Gaels with 19 points, but he was about their only dependable scoring option.
“We just took (Dellavedova) out of the game,” said Few, whose club allowed 97 points in two tourney games. “I haven’t seen many people do that to Dellavedova. He usually kills you one way or another.”
The Bulldogs led 38-29 after Harris drove the left side of the lane and scored just before the first-half horn. Olynyk scored on a lob pass from Harris, Gary Bell Jr. drained a 3-pointer and Olynyk returned the favor, feeding Harris for layup. Gonzaga led 45-31 with 17:48 remaining and it was essentially over.
“We played well offensively, we just didn’t shoot it, which is a big part of offense,” SMC coach Randy Bennett said. “Defensively inside, particularly with Harris, we didn’t do a good enough job.”
Bennett feels pretty confident that the Gaels (27-6), ranked No. 21 in the USA Today poll and carrying an RPI of 30, are in good shape for an at-large NCAA tournament berth.
He was firm in his assessment of Gonzaga. Bennett called GU the best team he’s seen in the WCC, and then recalled “that LMU crew back in the day was pretty serious. We have a good team, one of our best teams, and we couldn’t get them this year.”
“I know where my vote has gone, just being fair,” Bennett said. “Other people have lost games that you wouldn’t think they’d lose. They haven’t. Butler was lucky that they got them.”
Gonzaga outscored Saint Mary’s 42-18 in points in the paint. Olynyk and Harris combined to make 15 of 25 shots and 10 of 12 free throws. Kevin Pangos connected on just 2 of 8 shots, but he matched his career high with seven rebounds to go with four steals and three assists. Bell added nine points and two assists.
The Zags’ postgame celebration was a bit reserved. They danced at center court, collected their individual medals and WCC trophy and cut down the net.
“You have to enjoy your successes when they come but you have to be short-minded in the sense that it’s not the end of year,” Olynyk said. “We want to make some noise in the tournament.”
Harris, Olynyk and the Gaels’ Waldow were joined on the all-tournament team by San Diego’s Johnny Dee and Loyola Marymount’s Anthony Ireland.