By Jim Meehan The Spokesman-Review
LAS VEGAS – Watching on television when Saint Mary’s center Brad Waldow’s front tooth went flying late in Saturday’s game, Gonzaga’s Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk had a similar reaction.
“I thought, umm, it might be about time to wear a mouth guard,” Harris said. “It’s been sitting in my locker the last four years.”
“I don’t really like them,” Olynyk said, talking about mouth guards. “It’s hard to communicate. After I saw that, I was like, ‘Shoot, I should be wearing one of those.’”
Waldow had one front tooth knocked out and an adjacent tooth pushed inward after absorbing contact from San Diego’s Chris Manresa. An oral surgeon put Waldow’s teeth back in place with glue and a wire and the Gaels’ center is good to go for tonight’s WCC men’s basketball tournament title game with Gonzaga at the Orleans Arena.
It’s the fifth straight year Gonzaga (30-2) and Saint Mary’s (27-5) have met for the championship. They split the previous four meetings. GU has played in the last 16 title games and is pursuing its 12th championship since 1995.
The day off between the semifinals and championship has been in place since BYU joined the WCC two years ago. The Cougars don’t play games on Sundays. The extra 24 hours came in handy for Waldow and Olynyk, who will probably defend each other.
Waldow received a bunch of texts, alerting him to Randy Bennett’s no-way-I’m-touching-that reaction when the player tried to hand the coach his tooth.
“The thing was huge,” Bennett said.
“I tried to hand it to Coach ‘B’, I didn’t think they’d stop the game for it, and he didn’t take it so I tossed it to one of the assistant coaches,” Waldow said. “Right now I’m feeling pretty good, not as sore.”
Olynyk twisted his ankle in the second half of Gonzaga’s win over Loyola Marymount. He played on, but had his worst shooting night (3-of-10, 30 percent) of the season.
“I’ll be ready,” said Olynyk, who entered the game third nationally in field-goal percentage at 66.8. “I went through a good team practice, did everything. I could have played (Sunday night). If we had to play right after Saturday’s game I would have played.”
The Zags defeated Saint Mary’s 83-78 in Spokane and 77-60 in Moraga, Calif. GU’s first priority is defending Gaels standout point guard Matthew Dellavedova. He had mixed results, making 4-of-15 shots en route to 14 points in the first meeting and hitting six 3s and scoring 22 points to go with six assists in the second.
“You have to love and respect guys that have maxed out their ability,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “You can tell by the way he plays, he’s a guy that really takes film to heart. He’s a tremendous competitor.”
Bennett’s concern is containing Gonzaga’s offense, which averages 78 points on 50.3 percent shooting.
“You have to figure out how you’re going to guard their personnel, that’s where you have to make more adjustments,” Bennett said. “There won’t be any surprises, they’re going to do what they do defensively and you have to be able to execute.”