Gonzaga Students Came Back Early In Droves For SMC Game
By Matt Breach
Special to GoZags.com
SPOKANE, Wash. - More than an hour before tipoff, while players were still just warming up, the Gonzaga students had already dutifully packed the McCarthey Athletic Center. It was an impressive site considering class still is not in session.
But it's hard to tell whether the students had returned to campus early to cheer on their Bulldogs or verbally harass Matthew Dellavedova, the player Zag fans love to hate.
Every chance they got, the students mercilessly heckled the Saint Mary's guard. At the end, they roared wildly as their beloved Zags sent him back to California with a loss.
Gonzaga staved off a spirited Saint Mary's rally to claim an important 83-78 win in a West Coast Conference showdown Thursday night. The decision pushed the Bulldogs' record to 16-1 overall and 3-0 in the WCC.
"I told them they have done a heckuva a job to get to 16-1," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "This has just been emotional game after emotional game. It's very difficult to do that and I don't know how many teams, this far into the season, have done that."
The win had to be especially satisfying for the Bulldogs considering Saint Mary's has been the proverbial thorn in their sides recently. The Gaels ended the Zags' streak of 11 consecutive conference championships last season. Thursday's victory, besides serving as a small measure of revenge, was a critical step toward regaining that crown.
"Anytime you beat Saint Mary's, anytime you get a leg up in that conference race, it's huge," Gonzaga senior Mike Hart said. "So we're happy and we're satisfied, for sure."
Dellavedova entered Thursday's contest averaging more than 16 points per outing in nine career games against Gonzaga. He tallied double figures in all but two of those meetings while leading the Gaels to five wins.
Nothing came easy for Dellavedova on Thursday. Gary Bell Jr., who drew the unenviable defensive assignment, made certain of that with his seemingly relentless pressure. But make no mistake, it was a complete team effort to contain the potent Aussie.
"We just tried to get guys on him and throw a lot of guys at him," Hart said. "He is such a great player you just got to do everything you can to contain him - use your whole team."
The students cheered madly when Dellavedova missed, which was often in the early stages of the game. He clanked his first five shots before finally flipping in a bucket midway through the first half. He finished the first 20 minutes with just five points on 2-of-8 shooting.
"I'm glad the students were able to come back, even though school hasn't started yet," Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk said. "They are the best student section in the nation, I think, so it was great for them to be back."
The Bulldogs asserted themselves right before intermission, turning a taut contest into an 18-point cushion. Most of the outburst was furnished by Olynyk, who torched the Gaels for 17 first-half points. The junior forward finished the contest with 31 points. He is the first Zag to top the 30-point plateau twice in a season since Adam Morrison accomplished the feat in 2006.
"That is great company to be in," Olynyk said. "Anytime you have a guy like that next to your name, you can only be happy and only feel privileged by that."
Gonzaga extended its lead to 20 before Saint Mary's, despite little production from Dellavedova, made things substantially more dramatic in the second half. The Gaels edged within a point with 15 seconds left, but the Bulldogs were able to hold on for the victory.
"It turned into a heckuva a ballgame," Few said. "We were able to make enough plays there at the end to get the W, which is all we wanted to accomplish."
Dellavedova, much to the delight of the boisterous capacity crowd, came up empty in the final minute. He committed a crucial turnover, one of four, and missed an open 3-point attempt that would have knotted the score. He finished the game with 14 points, three below his season average. He was just 4-for-15 from the field and missed all but two of his nine attempts from behind the arc.
Gonzaga will have to face Dellavedova and the Gaels again in mid-February and possibly again in the WCC tournament. But for one night, at least, the Bulldogs can take satisfaction in knowing they bested their rival. The students who returned early, no doubt, will.