LAS VEGAS — A year ago in the final of the West Coast Conference tournament, Gonzaga was left to lament an off-shooting night by Kevin Pangos and the fact his backcourt mate, Gary Bell Jr., simply didn’t get many shots.
So Monday night, the Zags took a different approach. They jammed the ball inside with impunity against Saint Mary’s, took a double-digit first-half lead and cruised to an 65-51 victory over the Gaels.
The win was the third straight this year over their heated rival and should solidify the Zags’ chance of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, while probably sustaining their No. 1 ranking going into the Big Dance — for what that’s worth.
On this occasion, the Zags simply abused the Gaels inside. When Kelly Olynyk completed a three-point play with 6:48 left to give Gonzaga a 60-43 lead, Gonzaga had hit an amazing 18 field goals from no farther than three feet away — layups, dunks or clever up-and-under moves by Olynyk.
That Olynyk move wasn’t the showstopper, however. With 13:29 remaining and the Zags breaking away, backup guard David Stockton found Olynyk roaming the right wing, bounced it to him, and Olynyk rattled in a majestic slam over Brad Waldow of Saint Mary’s.
But the night wouldn’t have been complete without Gonzaga’s shutdown defensive effort on the canny Gaels point guard, Matthew Dellavedova. The Zags used Mike Hart and Gary Bell on him primarily, but doubled him effectively every time Saint Mary’s set up a ball screen and made other Gaels try to beat them.
Dellavedova made just one of his first eight shots, continuing his struggles from a 2-for-12 night in the semifinals against San Diego.
The Zags had a 38-29 halftime lead, and Elias Harris fed Olynyk for the first basket of the second half. After Dellavedova’s floater missed, Bell rained a three in front of the Gonzaga bench, and with 18:38 left, it was 43-29.
Gonzaga eventually expanded the lead to 53-34, but Saint Mary’s, which lost guard Jorden Page to an apparent knee injury in the first half, gave itself hope with a seven-point run, necessitating a Gonzaga timeout at 11:20 with a 53-41 lead.
Soon after, GU pushed the lead back to 17, continuing to use the Olynyk-Harris combination to bedevil the Gaels inside.
Saint Mary’s had an early 16-15 lead, but after Sam Dower coaxed in a baseline jumper for Gonzaga, misfortune struck the Gaels.
Page, one of Saint Mary’s’ Australian imports, launched a three that missed, and in the scramble for a ball that bounced back near midcourt, Page collapsed in a heap. He was helped off the floor with what appeared to be a knee injury.
The Gaels then missed seven straight shots as the Zags edged ahead, 24-16. Saint Mary’s chipped back on a three from on top by Michael Holt and a reverse layup by Waldow, and Saint Mary’s was down only 24-21.
But then Gonzaga mounted a 9-0 burst marked by some of its best basketball of the night, and by the loudest din in Orleans Arena.
Gonzaga shot 64 percent in the first half on 16 of 25, and limited Saint Mary’s to three treys on 16 tries.
Dellavedova finished 1 of 8 for two points, with three turnovers and seven assists.