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Gonzaga makes another statement for No. 1 ranking

The SportsXchange

SPOKANE, Wash. -- No sooner had Elias Harris and Gonzaga completed their run to No. 1 in the West Coast Conference than Harris stated Gonzaga's case for being voted No. 1 in the nation.

"Why wouldn't we deserve it?" Harris said after the second-ranked Bulldogs finished conference play with an 81-52 rout of Portland on Saturday afternoon. "We're playing great basketball right now.

"I feel we can play with anybody in the country."

The Bulldogs, 29-2 overall and 16-0 in the WCC, have won 12 straight games and own the best record in NCAA Division I. A sellout crowd of 6,000 chanted "We're No. 1!" during a postgame celebration that included the presentation of the championship trophy and cutting down the nets at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

"I feel they're very deserving of a No. 1 ranking," Portland standout Ryan Nicholas said.

Pilots coach Eric Reveno said, "I think they should be No. 1."

Portland (11-20, 4-12) has lost 20 straight to Gonzaga and 34 of the past 35 meetings.

Harris and fellow forward Kelly Olynyk dominated inside, with Harris totaling 20 points and nine rebounds and Olynyk contributing 15 points and a career-high 11 rebounds.

Gonzaga outscored Portland 42-10 in the paint and 15-0 on fast breaks. The outcome was never in doubt after a 13-0 run gave the Bulldogs a 20-9 lead barely seven minutes into the game.

"They're the real deal," Nicholas said.

Reveno said, "They're a very good basketball team without many weaknesses -- any weaknesses that are obvious."

Gonzaga coach Mark Few said "it'd be pretty cool" to be ranked No. 1 when the new polls come out Monday, but he's making no predictions.

"That's out of our control," he said. "I don't have a vote. Nobody in that (Gonzaga's locker) room has a vote.

"All we can do is do what we do. If it happens, we're not going to take it lightly because it's never happened here before. It would be an honor."

The Bulldogs, an established force on the national scene, are sometimes hurt in the polls by the lack of other quality teams in the WCC. The last WCC team ranked No. 1 was San Francisco in March 1977.

The Bulldogs are 2-1 against current Top 25 teams and 1-2 against Top 25 teams when they met.

"We're always going to have some people that say, 'Well, the conference is not the best,'" Harris said.

Gonzaga swingman Mike Hart said, "It would be cool (to be ranked No. 1), but we've still got stuff to prove. There's so many people out there who don't think we're deserving of that. We've got to play with a chip on our shoulder."

Gonzaga, loaded with size, athleticism, experience and depth, has defeated WCC opponents by almost 20 points per game (77.2-57.8). Nicholas said the Bulldogs are tough to defend because guards like Gary Bell Jr. (14 points Saturday, including four 3-pointers) and Kevin Pangos (eight points, five assists) nicely complement the deadly inside duo of Harris and Olynyk.

"There's a difference between having great bigs (Harris and Olynyk) and great bigs that actually work well together," Nicholas said.

"They don't seem to be really concerned who gets the shots. They go high-low unselfishly. They pass the ball real well."

Point guard Derrick Rodgers, Portland's only senior, led the Pilots with 10 points. Nicholas, a Spokane native, had nine points and a team-high nine rebounds.

Gonzaga enjoyed a 49.2 percent-28.8 percent edge in field-goal shooting and had just five turnovers. Olynyk sank 7 of 8 shots from the field and had four assists in 21 minutes.

"A first-round draft pick," Reveno said.

NOTES: All three of Gonzaga's seniors started on senior day: Harris, Hart and Guy Landry Edi. ... Olynyk, a redshirt junior, also may have played in his final home game. Olynyk said he's "not even close" to deciding whether to pass up his senior season. ... Gonzaga's .933 winning percentage through Friday was the best in NCAA Division I. The Bulldogs were second in field-goal shooting percentage (50.6), third in scoring margin (plus-18.0), ninth in scoring (78.3) and 11th in rebound margin (plus-7.5). Olynyk was fourth in field-goal shooting percentage (66.2). ... Nicholas, the Pilots' leading scorer and rebounder the past two seasons, attended high school a few blocks from Gonzaga at Gonzaga Prep. The Bulldogs did not recruit Nicholas, who said he never had a desire to play for the Bulldogs. "I'm glad I came to Portland," he said. "It fits me."
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