Santa Clara-Gonzaga Preview
By JEFF MEZYDLO
(AP) -- Boasting the best record in Division I and its highest AP ranking in nine seasons, Gonzaga is on the verge of another impressive distinction.
Hoping to remain undefeated in the West Coast Conference, the third-ranked Bulldogs can match the most regular-season victories in school history Wednesday night if they continue their recent dominance of visiting Santa Clara.
Winners of eight straight overall since a last-second loss at Butler, Gonzaga (25-2, 12-0) has the nation's highest winning percentage (.926). The program has never been ranked higher by the AP than its current position, which equals its spot from the final two polls of 2003-04.
"Physically, they're a Final Four-caliber team," San Francisco coach Rex Walters said after his team lost 71-61 at home to Gonzaga on Saturday.
"They've got an absolute pro in (Kelly) Olynyk and another guy who could very well be a pro in (Elias) Harris - and they have great guard play and an unbelievable work ethic."
Off to their best WCC start since finishing 14-0 in 2008-09, the Bulldogs put a stranglehold on the conference lead with a 77-60 win at second-place Saint Mary's on Thursday, then followed by snapping a three-game skid at San Francisco.
"It's a big-time win," the 7-foot Olynyk said Saturday after posting 26 points and nine rebounds. "We've got to keep that going and finish off this conference."
Harris, who finished with 17 points and 13 boards, also helped the Bulldogs outrebound the Dons 45-29.
Winners of 14 consecutive WCC regular-season games since last year's road loss to San Francisco, the Bulldogs have four games left to match or surpass the school record of 26 regular-season victories from 2001-02. Gonzaga has won 16 straight conference home games by an average of 19.0 points.
It's also averaged 87.6 points while winning five in a row over Santa Clara (19-8, 7-5) at the McCarthey Athletic Center by an average of 28.8.
The Broncos have won two straight and seven of nine since a three-game skid that began Jan. 5 with an 81-74 home loss to Gonzaga - their fourth straight defeat in the series and 26th in the last 28 meetings. Olynyk scored a career-high 33 points while Harris added 14 as the Bulldogs shot 55.3 percent.
Olynyk has blossomed into a national player of the year candidate, averaging 21.0 points on 26-of-38 shooting (68.4 percent) in his last three games. His field goal percentage for the season (64.9 percent) ranks third in the nation.
Santa Clara guard Kevin Foster is third in the WCC averaging 18.4 points despite shooting 39.5 percent. He scored 29 on 10-of-24 shooting against the Bulldogs last month.
The senior had 27 points at Gonzaga in 2011, but combined for 17 in his other two trips to Spokane, where he has shot 30.2 percent.
Foster finished with 22 points and went 5 of 11 from 3-point range in Saturday's 70-60 win over Pepperdine. Teammate Marc Trasolini was limited to eight, but he still made at least half his shots (4 of 8) for the eighth consecutive game and is averaging 16.4 points in that stretch.
The 6-foot-9 Trasolini, a British Columbia native like Olynyk, had 19 and nine rebounds against the Bulldogs earlier this season as Santa Clara fell to 0-18 when facing a ranked Gonzaga team.
Updated February 19, 2013