The rhetoric has been pretty much the same over the past few weeks. "If the Zags win out, maybe they can get a two seed". It slowly morphed into "The Zags keep winning, if they win out and get some help, maybe they can get a one seed". Well, now it can be "The Zags won, now what do we do with them". While my bias will surely show, I can tell you that the team I have watched all season long is worthy of a one seed. For now, let's focus on what we know: the Gonzaga Bulldogs have finished the season with a 31-2 record, have won 14 games in a row, haven't lost a game since mid-January, and just dominated their biggest rival to win the West Coast Conference crown.
The Zags, who will surely be one of the most debated teams leading up to Selection Sunday, capped off their best season in school history and did so with incredible style. Heading into tonight's game against Saint Mary's, the game plan was simple: pound the ball inside, hit shots when open outside, and throw the kitchen sink at Matthew Dellavedova. I think I speak for the entire Gonzaga fanbase when I say the Zags executed that game plan wonderfully. The Zags begged everyone from Saint Mary's not named Dellavedova to beat them and only one Gael stepped up to the plate. Stephen Holt scored 19 points in 39 minutes and was outstanding but he received no help from his teammates.
As for Dellavedova, he was swarmed by defensive player of the year Mike Hart and a host of other Zags including Gary Bell. When he did happen to get a breath of fresh air, he simply couldn't knock down shots. Dellavedova, who prior to this year, never seemed to be bothered by the Zags, had an atrocious night. The senior guard finished 1-8 from the floor and scored just two points. He never reached the free throw line. Dellavedova and the Gaels had some bad luck early as starting guard Jorden Page had to leave the game early with a knee injury. While that injury proved to be impactful, it was Saint Mary's inability to match Gonzaga's frontcourt that proved to be the difference.
Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris, just as they have been so many times, were the difference. They combined for 40 points tonight with Olynyk leading the way with 21 points and 12 rebounds. While the Bulldogs struggled a bit on the glass, allowing Saint Mary's to snag 10 offensive rebounds, they did wind up outrebounding the Gaels in total, 35-28. Both Harris and Olynyk were incredibly efficient offensively. Harris was 8-13 and Olynyk was 7-12 with one obscenely large dunk that will show up on SportsCenter numerous times tomorrow. Harris was steady, aggressive, and made big plays when the Zags needed them most. As I wrote about recently, Olynyk gets and deserves all the accolades he gets but during big moments, I love seeing Harris attack the rack.
For the next few days, we are going to hear everyone debate about the merit of Gonzaga being a one-seed. The good thing about what the Zags just did is that they truly rested their case in the best way possible. They swept their conference with little resistance, picked up another solid win against a top-50 team, and have no bad losses to speak of. Their resume is solid and while we will all think about what could have been had that late inbounds pass against Butler had gone right, it is now time to shut off all the doubters and celebrate a truly remarkable landmark in Gonzaga basketball history.
After all, up until this point, everyone said "No one wants to be No. 1". The Zags stared down that title and said "eh, we'll just keep winning".