SPOKANE, Wash. -- Kelly Olynyk played so little in his first two years at Gonzaga that someone asked Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett if he even remembered Olynyk.
"I remember him," Bennett said dryly. "I didn't think he was very good."
My, how things have changed since Olynyk used a redshirt season last year to become bigger, stronger and better.
In his first game since scoring a career-high 33 points at Santa Clara last Saturday, Olynyk poured in 31 points Thursday to carry ninth-ranked Gonzaga to a heart-pumping, 83-78 triumph over Saint Mary's.
"He's improved more than anyone in college basketball," Bennett said.
Bennett's Gaels showed marked improvement in the second half Thursday, but it was not enough to erase all of Gonzaga's 18-point halftime lead in the West Coast Conference game. The 7-foot Olynyk, dominating inside, sank 8 of 10 shots to score 17 of Gonzaga's 46 points in the opening half.
"Some stuff opened up inside, and Kevin Stockton found me," Olynyk said.
"We competed better in the second half," Bennett said, "but we're way too experienced, we're way too far along to have that halftime conversation about competing hard.
"They're a good team. You can't be a one-half ballclub and expect to beat a team like this."
Bennett joined Olynyk and Gonzaga coach Mark Few in offering high praise for Gonzaga sophomore point guard Kevin Pangos.
Badly outplayed by star Saint Mary's point guard Matthew Dellavedova in the WCC title game last March (won by Saint Mary's), Pangos got the better of the Gaels' senior in the rematch. Pangos scored 22 points on 8-for-12 shooting, had three steals and three assists, played all 40 minutes and made no turnovers.
"Pangos was huge down the stretch," Few said. "He showed some leadership, made some shots."
The Gaels pulled within three on three occasions in the final 6:12. However, Pangos knocked down a pair of 3-pointers before clinching the game with two free throws with 2.3 seconds to go.
Dellavedova, the reigning WCC Player of the Year, hit just 4 of 15 shots. He scored 14 points, but he had more turnovers (four) than assists (three).
"He's tryin'," Bennett said. "His attitude's great. But he's got to play better than that if we're going to win."
Dellavedova, who started for Australia in the 2012 Summer Olympics, was hounded by Gary Bell Jr., one of the WCC's best defenders.
"He's a great defensive player," Olynyk said. "Strong, quick. He took Dellavedova out of his game."
Guard Stephen Holt keyed the Gaels' second-half rally by scoring 15 of his 23 points after the break. He scored six points during an 8-0 run that reduced Gonzaga's lead to 55-44 with 17:29 left.
"I was proud of Stephen," Bennett said. "He stepped up."
The Bulldogs (16-1, 3-0), who shot 54.2 percent from the field, have won seven straight games since suffering a rare home loss to Illinois. The Gaels (12-4, 1-1 WCC) had won four in a row, and eight of nine.
"We played fantastic in the first half and they played fantastic in the second half," Few said. "It turned into a heck of a ball game."
NOTES: Gonzaga senior forward Elias Harris, who had 13 points and six rebounds, made the Midseason Top 25 List for the John R. Wooden Award as player of the year. Dellavedova, one of 50 preseason candidates, did not make the Midseason List that was announced earlier Thursday. ... Also on Thursday, Pangos was named one of 20 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award, presented annually to the nation's best point guard. Dellavedova failed to advance beyond the initial list, though he came into the game with career-high averages of 17.4 and 6.7 assists per game. ... The Bulldogs claimed another honor Thursday when Olynyk was named the WCC Player of the Month for December. Olynyk averaged 18.1 points and 6.4 rebounds in seven games. ... The nationally televised game drew the standard sellout crowd of 6,000 at Gonzaga's McCarthey Athletic Center.