MORAGA, Calif. (AP)—As well as Gonzaga can score, Mark Few’s team is winning a lot of games with rebounding.
The Zags even spent some extra time focused on that area in practice this week to prepare for Saint Mary’s. They went out and dominated the boards.
“It’s coaching,” Few joked. “That’s been a big statistic for us all year. It’s energy and desire.”
Elias Harris scored a career-high 31 points and grabbed 13 rebounds and No. 17 Gonzaga held off a late rally by its biggest West Coast Conference rival for a fifth straight win in the series, 89-82 on Thursday night.
Matt Bouldin added 22 points and Steven Gray had 14 points, 14 rebounds and six assists as the Zags (13-3, 2-0) extended their overall winning streak to five and snapped a five-game winning streak by Saint Mary’s (15-3, 2-1).
Omar Samhan’s layin with 58.5 seconds left cut Gonzaga’s lead to 84-80. Bouldin missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 44 seconds remaining but Jorden Page then missed a 3-pointer at the other end. Bouldin converted two free throws with 26.2 to go and two more with 4.3 seconds left.
“Especially on their floor, they’re bound to make some runs, and their crowd is going to will them back,” Bouldin said. “We just had to keep going.”
Samhan scored his team’s first 11 points of the second half and finished with 31 and 12 rebounds. Matthew Dellavedova added 23 points and seven assists for Saint Mary’s. His two free throws with 4:33 to play made it 76-72, but Bouldin came up big on the other end moments later.
Harris’ outing was Gonzaga’s first 30-point performance since Adam Morrison scored 35 in a win over Xavier in the first round of the 2006 NCAA tournament.
Gonzaga shot 59.7 percent and showed poise down the stretch by answering each time the Gaels threatened.
“We were atrocious defensively,” Gaels coach Randy Bennett said. “We got outhustled and outcompeted (on the boards) and on defense. I don’t know why but it wasn’t near good enough.”
This was a tough one for the raucous Saint Mary’s home crowd of more than 3,500 at sold-out McKeon Pavilion, where students began packing their section 90 minutes before tipoff for what has become the biggest regular-season game of the season on this tiny campus. The chants of “overrated!” began well before the game began.
Yet again, Gonzaga proved them otherwise. The Zags captured all three meetings last season, yet the Gaels’ last three victories in the series came at home—in 2005, ’07 and ’08.
“It hurts. It feels horrible,” Samhan said. “I’m glad we came back because it could have been a 25-point loss easy. We lost it in the first half. We got off to a slow start.”
The Bulldogs, who have played only twice at home in Spokane, Wash., since Dec. 9, held a commanding 45-27 advantage on the boards. They are picked to win their 10th straight WCC regular-season crown. Saint Mary’s was chosen to finish third behind Portland.
Saint Mary’s had won five straight since a 60-49 loss to Southern California at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii on Dec. 23. But the Gaels, among the final teams left out of the NCAA tournament last March, couldn’t overcome a cold first half in which they shot 34.3 percent and were outrebounded 27-14.
Dellavedova was impressive in his debut in this rivalry. The Australian freshman shot 8 of 12 and made all four of his 3-point tries. He has shown he’s a fine replacement for the departed Aussie star Patty Mills of the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Zags opened the game by making 8 of 11 shots and Samhan began 0 for 7 under heavy defensive pressure down low by Robert Sacre and Will Foster.
Sacre slammed Samhan into the base of the basket upright with 7:20 left in the opening half and tempers flared momentarily but both teams went to their benches without issue. Samhan scored his first field goal with 6:02 left in the first half.
Samhan said he thought it was a dirty play but Sacre apologized.
“He said, ‘I wasn’t going to give you a dunk,”’ Samhan said. “I told him, ‘I would have done the same thing to you. That’s a Saint Mary’s-Gonzaga play.”’
Gonzaga used an early 11-3 run to build a 21-13 lead and the Gaels went scoreless for 3:14 before Mickey McConnell’s 3 at the 10:46 mark. The Gaels gave up easy baskets in the first half and Gonzaga used an 11-2 run to end the half for a 45-33 halftime lead.
Saint Mary’s was handed only its second home loss this season.
Golden State Warriors center Ronny Turiaf was in the stands to see his former Gonzaga team, while former Gaels star Diamon Simpson also was on hand.