LAS VEGAS — Red, white and blue streamers cascaded down from the rafters at Orleans Arena. At the buzzer, Gonzaga players rushed from the bench for a jumpy group hug.
Through all the hoopla, all the talk about a No. 1 NCAA seed and a No. 1 ranking, apparently one thing never gets old: Beating Saint Mary’s.
The Zags imposed themselves on the Gaels with impunity here Monday night, pounding them inside and rendering Saint Mary’s point guard Matthew Dellavedova a cameo player as they rocked the Gaels, 65-51.
It solidifies Gonzaga’s argument for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and it likely means the Zags, 31 wins and counting, enter the tournament ranked No. 1 — like it or not.
It also was a third straight 2013 victory over Saint Mary’s, and completes the take-back of the regular-season and tournament titles the Gaels won last year.
When it was done, Zags coach Mark Few was willing to deliver a bit of a campaign speech for his team to be a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday.
“We’ve controlled everything that’s been put before us, and done an amazing job, which is all we can do,” said Few. “Watch us, and look at our results.”
The player Saint Mary’s didn’t have to deal with a year ago was Kelly Olynyk, who was redshirting while the Gaels pulled their stealth maneuver.
He had 31 points in the first 2013 meeting in Spokane, 17 in the victory at Saint Mary’s, and 21 points and 12 rebounds on this night.
With Olynyk and tournament MVP Elias Harris working a punishing high-low game, 18 of the 25 Gonzaga field goals came on layups, dunks or Olynyk’s up-and-under flips.
“Those two really play off each other,” Few said. “Kind of lost in the great season Kelly’s had is Elias’ unselfishness. A lot of Kelly’s points have come off Elias’ dimes.
“This fall, we started to pick up on it in those early games, when we got Kelly back (from a three-game suspension). You could kind of see how they feed off each other.”
The showstopping play of the night, however, didn’t come from Harris. On a fast break with 13:29 left, David Stockton spied Olynyk roaming the right wing and bounced it. Olynyk caught it and flushed it home over Brad Waldow and Gonzaga had a 53-34 lead, its biggest of the night.
The Zags had led at half, 38-29. It was punctuated by a knee injury to Gaels guard Jorden Page that caused them to dig deep into the bench.
Few called it “a complete game” and wanted to celebrate the Zags’ defense, which held Saint Mary’s to 35.7-percent shooting.
Of course, it all revolved around shackling Dellavedova. The Zags settled on a plan they used in the second game this year against Saint Mary’s, using primarily Mike Hart on him, with a roughhouse double-team against the Gaels’ ball screens — except for adjusting when shooter Beau Levesque was in the game.
It worked so well, Dellavedova didn’t even make the all-tournament team. He went 1 for 8 from the field for two points, and Saint Mary’s didn’t give him enough help.
“Tonight,” Few said, “we took a great player out of the game.”
Added Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett: “Sometimes playing well comes down to making some shots.”
The Gaels didn’t do that, hitting 7 of 27 threes.
“When (Hart) gets his hands up, it really bothers Dellavedova,” said Zags assistant coach Ray Giacoletti. Turning wistful, he said of the senior Hart, “He might be our toughest guy to replace. I don’t even know how to find somebody like him.”
Distasteful as was the loss to the Zags, the fact GU’s profile has spiked shouldn’t crimp the Gaels’ prospects for making the NCAA tournament.
Gonzaga now waits for Selection Sunday, more certain than ever of what awaits. It will go a friendly distance, to Salt Lake City or San Jose, no matter the seed.
“I think it’s going to be hard for all of us that first weekend,” said Few. “One seed, two seed — it’s going to be hard for everybody. It’s that kind of year.”
It will get hard; count on it. But against Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga made it look easy.