Gonzaga’s WCC Dominance Hints at Elusive Postseason SuccessPosted by Kenny Ocker on January 18th, 2013
Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s game between Portland and Gonzaga in the City of Roses.
When star forward Elias Harris can go 1-of-9 in the first half, scoring only two points, and you still lead by 10 points, you’ve got it made. That’s because Gonzaga goes 10-deep as well as any team in the country. In the West Coast Conference, that’s borderline unfair. Riding a streak of 14 straight NCAA Tournament appearances and a stretch of 32 of 33 wins against Portland, the Bulldogs are again showing themselves as the class of the league, and look to be the best they’ve been since Adam Morrison called the Kennel home.
Playing the victim yet again, the Pilots tried to make it a game despite falling behind by 14 before making their second basket, getting as close as five points in the last two minutes. Freshman guard Oskars Reinfelds carried Portland back into contention, rallying his teammates with a stretch of six straight points to start a 24-15 run and adding a three-pointer later in the hot streak. But then Harris does what star players do, even when they are having off games, grabbing a loose ball from a block and ferociously slamming home an exclamation-point dunk to kill Portland’s rally. Then Memphis native Drew Barham capped the half with a three-pointer to stretch the lead to double digits again just before the clock expired.
The Zags did what good teams do, killing rallies and putting out fires whenever they arose, cruising to a 71-49 victory Thursday night in Portland. They controlled the glass, grabbing more offensive rebounds (16) than the Pilots had defensive rebounds (15), while forcing them into 17 turnovers. “To come down here and get a 20-point road win is nice,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “To kind of address the rebounding issues we’ve had in the last two or three outings against a really, really good rebounding team is also nice.” And if Gonzaga, now 17-1, can be this dominant on the road for a trap game two days before facing nationally-ranked Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, they stand a fair shot at getting through the WCC unscathed and landing a protected seed in the NCAA Tournament. They also have as good of shot as ever to get the Final Four trip that has eluded them under Mark Few.
Harris wasn’t the only Bulldog to struggle in the first half, as breakout center Kelly Olynyk only had one basket in six minutes before being benched with two fouls. Instead, the Bulldogs were carried by three three-pointers apiece from Barham and starting guard Kevin Pangos, part of an 8-of-15 performance from long range. “We’ve got some nice balance this year. We can call in a lot of guys. I kept telling Drew Barham if he just waits and waits and waits, we’ll see some zone eventually, and that’s when he can really function, and he’s been doing that all year to us in practice,” Few said. “And obviously, when Kevin makes shots, that opens up a lot of other things.” Gonzaga’s post players who struggled in the first half took advantage of that extra freedom after the break. Harris and Olynyk came out strong, showcasing the balanced nature of this Bulldogs squad. Harris went 4-of-7 from the field in the last stanza to finish with 10 points while adding nine rebounds. And Olynyk went 7-of-8 from the field in the second half to finish with 21 points.
Gonzaga’s defense was also strong, as it limited Portland’s best player, Spokane native Ryan Nicholas, to seven points on five shots, thanks chiefly to the long Harris and Olynyk. The Pilots’ Kevin Bailey led the team with 16 points, but had no rebounds or assists while racking up four fouls and four turnovers. Despite Few continuing to deflect the question, this Gonzaga team very well could be the best he’s led, and if it continues to play with such balance, depth and completeness, it will be. “At this point, none of those teams have done what this team’s done,” Few said, comparing his team’s early-season success to those of his past teams. “Right now we’ve done a really good job of handling the gauntlet of a schedule that I kind of threw at them. We’ve got another challenge on Saturday.”