SPOKANE, Wash. – Elias Harris had 20 points and nine rebounds as No. 2 Gonzaga beat Portland 81-52 on Saturday to stake a claim to its first-ever No. 1 ranking in The Associated Press’ Top 25.
Kelly Olynyk added 15 points and 11 rebounds for Gonzaga (29-2, 16-0 West Coast), which had already clinched the West Coast Conference regular season title and the top seed in next weekend’s tournament. Gary Bell Jr. added 14 points.
Gonzaga, winner of 12 consecutive games since a last-second loss at Butler, has escaped the losses that have afflicted other teams at or near the top of the poll in recent weeks. That included a loss by top-ranked Indiana to Minnesota earlier this week that opened the door for the Bulldogs.
The Zags have never been ranked higher than their current No. 2 position. But because of their lightly regarded conference schedule, there is a chance a lower team could leapfrog them in the poll. Gonzaga’s only other loss was at home to Illinois in December.
Derrick Rodgers scored 10 points for Portland (11-20, 4-12), which has lost 18 straight to Gonzaga dating to 2003.
The game concluded the regular season for both teams. Gonzaga is virtually assured a 15th consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.
This one was over quickly, as the Pilots were undone by poor shooting and Gonzaga’s dominating inside play.
Portland opened the game with three 3-pointers to take a 9-7 lead. But Gonzaga made three 3s during a 13-0 run for a 20-9 lead.
After Portland made its fourth 3-pointer, Gonzaga scored three straight baskets, punctuated by Harris’ dunk, for a 26-12 lead. Bell’s 3-pointer gave Gonzaga a 31-14 lead.
The teams traded baskets until Olynyk scored three times inside and Harris twice during an 11-0 Gonzaga run that made it 46-21.
Gonzaga led 46-27 at halftime, after shooting 61 percent and taking a huge 26-4 advantage on points in the paint. Harris had 13 points and seven rebounds in the first half. Portland shot just 30 percent in the first half, but made 7 of 13 3-pointers.
Olynyk opened the second half by scoring Gonzaga’s first three field goals for a 53-32 lead. Bell’s 3-pointer launched a 10-1 run for a 64-37 lead.
Gonzaga pushed the lead to 30 points with less than 9 minutes left and the Pilots did not threaten after that.
It was senior day as Gonzaga honored Harris, Mike Hart and Guy Landry Edi.
Gonzaga’s 29-2 start this season is the best in team history, topping the 28-2 record set in 2003-04. The Zags have the best winning percentage in the country and coach Mark Few has the highest winning percentage among active coaches with at least five years’ experience at 80 percent,
Gonzaga is 120-8 in the McCarthey Athletic Center since it opened in 2004.