BY Art Thiel 05:09PM 12/17/2011

Thiel: Zags’ Harris plays like state’s best collegian

With 25 points and eight rebounds, Elias Harris made a statement against Arizona in Gonzaga’s 71-60 triumph Saturday at KeyArena.

Elias Harris had 25 points to lead Gonzaga's wire-to-wire over Arizona at KeyArena Saturday afternoon./ Dorrell Edwards, Idol Sports

In the final minute of a wire-to-wire defeat at KeyArena, Arizona coach Sean Miller, having kept track of numerous indignities suffered at the hands of Gonzaga Saturday afternoon, felt compelled to offer his accounting to referee Kevin Brill.

After Brill explained at the scorer’s table why he changed a foul call on a player, Miller, perhaps thinking about the 32-9 disparity in free throws, shouted at Brill, “That’s about the 75th thing you got wrong today!”

What was probable grounds for a technical foul was ignored by Brill. Who knows? Miller might have been right.

But Miller also made at least one mistake of his own in the ninth Battle in Seattle, Gonzaga’s annual west side donor appeal dressed in baggy shorts.  He forgot to assign someone to guard Elias Harris the biggest reason the Zags won, 71-60.

Either that, or Harris is about the best college wing man in the state, and one of the best in the country.

To most among the 15,127 who bore witness to the 25 points and eight rebounds, plus a bristling effort on defense, they would opt for the second choice. The 6-foot-7, 240-pounder from Germany even banged home both of his three-pointers, helping Gonzaga to a 14-0 lead, a spread it held for much of the game.

Having been a modest 6-for-17 beyond the arc this season, the long-distance accuracy was a breakthrough reward for the junior.

I put in a lot of work in on that this summer,” he said. “Glad I’m finally getting something out of it.”

The Zags certainly got much out of it. Saturday was the first time in four tries the Zags beat Arizona, the perennial Pac-12 power. And they did it at the end of finals week, following a tough loss to Michigan State the previous Saturday and a surprisingly difficult win over Oral Roberts Thursday.

“It was a short week, and finals kinda zap us,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few. “We did pretty good.”

Notably cranky even after wins, Few was genuinely pleased to triumph over a team (7-4) that made the Elite Eight of the NCAA tourney last spring. He was especially happy with Harris, whose inconsistency has hobbled his potential.

“I don’t know (what the key to Harris is),” said Few, responding to a question. “If I could figure that out . . .

“He wants to be such a pleaser, he over-analyzes things. When he makes mistakes, he gets put out. He does his best when he plays like an athlete. This was definitely one of his best games, on both ends.”

Harris exploded early, scoring 15 of the Zags’ first 22 points, evoking comparisons to another hot-handed college performance in town from a night earlier. Over at Montlake, Tony Wroten scored 27 points in the Huskies’ 87-80 win over UC-Santa Barbara.

The comparison also brought to mind again the dismay over the failure to get the two strongest programs in the state together on the floor. Seeing Wroten and Harris go at each other would warm a hoops fan’s chilly week. But that’s a topic for another day when college hoops gets a deserved bash for silliness.

Saturday was another celebration, in front of a CBS-TV national audience that helped light up KeyArena a bit like the old Sonics days. Although Miller had a hard time grasping the celebratory mood, especially after his team reached the free throw line once in a first half that had to one of Arizona’s worst of the season.

“When I’m playing X-Box with my kids and I’m down 22-4, I hit reset,” he said after the game. “I hit reset all the time; but I couldn’t do that today.”

The Wildcats had to do it the analog way,  crawling back with some stout defense that reduced a 49-32 second half gap to 64-58 with 1:20 to go. But Harris scooped up a turnover by Arizona and blasted full-court for a dunk that deflated the Wildcats rally.

Now 7-2 despite starting freshmen at both guard spots, Gonzaga looked a lot closer to its traditional March form.

“In a national perspective, Gonzaga can go toe-to-toe with anybody,” Miller said. “You
could see that today, in size and physicality. If this was a football game, they’d have rushed for 180 yards in the game, five yards at a crack.”

In other words, Gonzaga would have won even without 75 errors from the officials.


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