BY Howie Stalwick 11:25PM 03/11/2013

Prelims done, Gonzaga has eyes on the prize

LAS VEGAS – Yes, Kelly Olynyk said, it was great winning the West Coast Conference tournament. And it was just super beating arch-rival Saint Mary’s in the title game. And it was wonderful to flat-out dominate the Gaels. Clearly, however, Olynyk and his Gonzaga teammates have their eyes on something much grander than the giant gold ball they were handed Monday night at the jam-packed Orleans Arena.

“There’s more,” Kelly Olynyk stressed, “to accomplish.”

That would be an NCAA championship, a first for the Bulldogs, who hope to be seeded No. 1 in the NCAA tournament for the first time when the field is announced Sunday.

“I believe we should be,” Olynyk said after the 65-51 drubbing of the Gaels. “It doesn’t really matter what I think. If they give us a two (second seed), we’re not going to be mad. We’ll just go out and play our game as a two seed. It doesn’t matter to me.”

Elias Harris, who meshed so spectacularly with front-line partner Olynyk one more time Monday evening, echoed Olynyk’s sentiments.

“I’ll be honest with you: I don’t know and I don’t care,” Harris said. “Whatever it’s going to be Sunday is fine with me. We’ve got to play basketball. At the end of the day, the seed’s not going to get you the championship.”

Mark Few, who has won 23 or more games and gone to the NCAA tournament all 14 years he’s coached the Zags, said he’s “sure” Gonzaga is headed to Salt Lake City or San Jose to open the NCAA tournament. Few toed the company line in regard to a No. 1 seeding.

“It’s been a goal for us that I’ve been throwing out to those guys down the stretch,” Few said. “We’ve got a saying in our program: Just control what you can control. We did a great job controlling what we can control.”

S-o-o-o, Mark, do you DESERVE to be a No. 1 seed?

“I just say we’ve controlled everything that’s been put before us, and we’ve done an amazing job,” he said. “I think it’s going to be hard on all of us that first weekend. One seed, two seed; it’s going to be hard for anybody. It’s that kind of year.”

Saint Mary’s figured to be a fairly “hard” obstacle for Gonzaga, but that was not the case. The Bulldogs shot 64 percent from the field in the first half and 52.1 percent for the game, and their defense might have been more impressive than their offense.

“We played fantastic defense,” Few said.

The Bulldogs centered their defensive game plan around negating the ball screens that Saint Mary’s star Matt Dellavedova utilizes so well. The senior point guard, who started for Australia in the 2012 Summer Olympics, had just two points on 1-for-8 shooting.

“We took a great player and really just took him out of his game,” Few said. “I haven’t seen many people do that to Dellavedova, if any. He usually kills you one way or the other.”

Meanwhile, Olynyk and Harris pounded the Gaels into submission down low. Olynyk, a finalist for national player of the year, led everyone with 21 points and a career-high 12 rebounds. Harris added 19 points, and he savored the sweet, sweet revenge gained against a Saint Mary’s squad that downed Gonzaga in overtime in last year’s title game.

“We all remembered how it felt to walk off the court and not have that trophy in our hands,” Harris said.

The Bulldogs are well aware that some cynics scoff at their No. 1 ranking. On Monday, however, Gonzaga pounded a team ranked 21st in the USA Today coaches poll (the Gaels came in 26th in voting for The Associated Press Top 25 poll). The Zags have won 14 straight games, and their only two losses came against teams that were ranked 13th when they met (Illinois and Butler).

“You have to take it with a grain of salt,” Olynyk said, referring to the doubters.

“Everyone has their own opinion.”

Wanna know Olynyk’s opinion of Gonzaga’s national title chances? He liked  ’em before Monday’s beat-down of a 27-6 team that may earn an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament, and he probably likes ’em even more now.

“Just one more step in the journey,” Olynyk said.


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