Gonzaga beats San Diego 81-50, clinches at least share of WCC title

Howie Stalwick, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

SPOKANE, Wash. - For 16 years, Bill Grier stayed in the background as an assistant basketball coach at Gonzaga, quietly contributing to the Bulldogs' rise to national prominence.
Now that Grier is head coach at San Diego, he's experiencing up close and personal what it's like to be on the other end of a typical Gonzaga beat-down. He much preferred the good ol' days.
"They're good. They're really good," Grier said after the third-ranked Bulldogs blasted the Toreros 81-50 Saturday afternoon at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
The Bulldogs, who started the season 9-0, won a season-best 10th straight game to improve to 27-2 overall and 14-0 in the West Coast Conference. Gonzaga clinched at least a tie for the regular-season championship for the 12th time in 13 years, counting two ties before Saint Mary's claimed the title outright last year.
"A lot of pieces are coming together right now," Gonzaga star Kelly Olynyk said. "Our defense has really started to hit its stride, and our offense has always been there ... (and) our bench is really contributing."
Kevin Pangos led a balanced Gonzaga offense with 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting, including 3 for 5 on 3-pointers. Olynyk added 14 points on 5-for-5 shooting, and he had nine rebounds and three blocked shots. Elias Harris hit 5 of 7 shots and scored 12 points.
Grier, in his sixth season at San Diego, said the current Bulldogs "could end up being the best team" in Gonzaga history.
"They execute extremely well," Grier said. "I think as the program evolved and the players' talent level got better, we kind of ran away from running as much stuff and just let them play ... but I think these guys do a really good job of executing their stuff.
"They're patient when they need to be. They get the ball to where they want it."
San Diego center Chris Manresa held his own with Gonzaga's big men on the offensive end, but he came away impressed with the Bulldogs as a whole and Olynyk in particular.
"They're a pretty damn good team," Manresa summed up. "They've got really good post players. They've got good guards who are really quick who can shoot. They rebound really well."
Manresa, the only San Diego player with more than eight points, scored 19 on 5-for-6 shooting from the field and 9-for-11 shooting at the free-throw line. He had just three rebounds, however, as Gonzaga dominated the glass, 38-22.
Olynyk, a 7-foot redshirt junior who is being touted as an All-America candidate and a possible first-round pick in the NBA draft this year, flashed some of his point guard skills from his younger days.
"He's a talented kid ... I was a bit shocked at some of the passes he was making out of the post," Manresa said.
The Bulldogs had to rally to beat San Diego (13-16, 6-8) 65-63 on the road Feb. 2, but Gonzaga cruised at home. The Toreros quickly trailed 14-4 and were down 37-23 at the half, and the Bulldogs did not let up in the second half.
"We came out really flat," Manresa said. "I'm not really sure why. Probably the crowd had something to do with it."
The standard sellout crowd of 6,000 at McCarthey was its usual festive self. San Diego scoring leader Johnny Dee, who scored 21 points in the previous meeting with Gonzaga, had just four in the rematch while often going up against premier defender Gary Bell Jr.
"He's doing an unreal job on defense," Olynyk said. "I didn't notice Dee at all, really, that game."
"I got a lot of help from the big guys 'showing' on the staggers and stuff," Bell said. "So it wasn't just me. It's never just me. It's always team defense."
The Bulldogs shot 54.5 percent from the field and held San Diego to 35.7 percent. Since beating Saint Mary's 83-78 in their WCC home opener Jan. 10, the Bulldogs have defeated visiting WCC teams by an average of 25.6 points.
-- NOTES: San Diego has lost four straight and eight of 10. ... Gonzaga coach Mark Few hand-picked Grier to replace him if Few ever left Gonzaga when Grier was still on the staff, but current Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd is now the first choice if Few leaves. ... Coming into Saturday's games, Gonzaga led the nation in winning percentage (92.9) and ranked third in scoring margin (plus-18.0) and field-goal shooting percentage (50.7). Olynyk was third among individuals in field-goal shooting percentage at 65.4.

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