By Jake Curtis, The Sports Xchange
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- It's unusual for a player to take a redshirt season after his sophomore year, but that's what Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk did, and it is paying major dividends for the fourth-year junior.
He had the best game of his career on Saturday, pouring in a career-high 33 points to help No. 10 Gonzaga hold off Santa Clara, 81-74, in a West Coast Conference game Saturday at the Leavey Center.
Santa Clara got 29 points from Kevin Foster, but the difference was Olynyk, who was 12-for-15 from the field and added 10 rebounds as Gonzaga (15-1, 2-0 in the WCC) dominated play in the paint.
"There's no question he's better because of it," Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating said of Olynyk's redshirt season last year. "He's bigger stronger, more agile. It's hard when you have a 7-foot guy doing those things."
Olynyk has been particularly effective on the road, and Santa Clara had a loud crowd of 4,907, the largest ever at the Leavey Center.
"He's really been good in a lot of tough-environment games," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said of Olynyk.
Olynyk had 22 points, which was his previous career high, on the road against Washington State, and scored 21 in the road win against Oklahoma State.
"I couldn't tell you why," Olynyk said, "but crowds don't bother me. I feed off the energy."
Even though Santa Clara (12-4, 1-1) had gone winless in the conference last season, Gonzaga knew it had a challenge on its hands from the Broncos.
Santa Clara had given Duke a stiff test on the road last month, and Foster, who had scored 36 points in a victory over Gonzaga two years ago, was back after missing much of last season following a suspension for driving under the influence.
But Gonzaga had too much inside firepower for Santa Clara. Guard Kevin Pangos was limited to six points and the Bulldogs made just 2 of 9 three-point attempts, but forward Elias Harris had 14 points for the Bulldogs, who hit 27 of 30 free throws.
Marc Trasolini added 19 points for the Broncos, but they were just 7-for-23 on three-pointers, which are a major part of their offense.
"They were pretty good shots," Keaing said, "but I would have liked to make 10 instead of seven."
The Broncos were just 1-for-9 on three-pointers in the second half.
"They take a lot of them, and they make them in spurts," Few said.
Already Santa Clara's all-time leading scorer, Foster surpassed 2,000 points for his career with his 23rd point of the evening, which came with 18:24 left in the game and cut a seven-point halftime deficit to two.
The Broncos closed the gap to one point on Brandon Clark's three-point shot with 13:22 to go, but Olynyk scored from close range, Sam Dower scored on a fast break, and David Stockton hit a layup. That gave Gonzaga a seven-point lead at the 11:44 mark, and it became a nine-point lead when Dower scored again from close range.
Gary Bell Jr. finished off the 10-0 run with a bucket to make it a 62-51 game at the 10:33 mark.
The Broncos cut the lead to 64-60 with 6:24 left and stayed close down the stretch.
A follow shot by Olynyk at the 1:55 mark provided Gonzaga with a 74-68 advantage. Olynyk added two clutch free throws with 52 seconds left to make it an eight point game.
NOTES: Gonzaga's next game is Thursday at home against St. Mary's, which has developed into quite a rivalry with the Bulldogs. Last season, St. Mary's ended Gonzaga's run of 11 straight regular-season conference championships . ... Santa Clara, which went winless in West Coast Conference play last season, ended a 17-game losing streak against conference foes when it beat San Francisco on Wednesday in its WCC opener. Santa Clara has not been 2-0 in the conference since 2003-2004. ... Saturday's game was a sellout, the Broncos' sixth home sellout since Kerry Keating became head coach. ... Gonzaga's Mike Hart made just his fourth start of the season on Saturday. ... Gonzaga entered Saturday's game shooting 51.3 percent from the field, third best in the country. The Bulldogs shot 55.3 percent on Saturday.