SEATTLE — Teammates said his performance was “All-American” worthy. Arizona coach Sean Miller essentially called Elias Harris one of the best forwards in the country.
Even Harris had to acknowledge his game Saturday was pretty special.
“Today was not much thinking. Today was getting in there and getting the job done,” Harris said. “That’s what I did.”
Harris scored 12 of Gonzaga’s first 19 points during a suffocating opening run, finishing with a season-high 25 points, and the Bulldogs needed all of their early advantage to hold on in the final minutes for a 71-60 win over the Wildcats on Saturday at Seattle’s KeyArena.
Making their annual trip across the mountains to play before its large fan base in the Seattle area, Gonzaga (7-2) scored the first 14 points, held Arizona scoreless for more than five minutes, and then had to hold on in the second half as the Wildcats tried to climb out of a 20-point hole.
They nearly did it, getting within six in the final minutes. But just like the beginning, Harris was there to cap off the victory with an easy layup after breaking the Arizona press with 1:05 left to finally stem the Wildcats rally.
“It just feels awesome. It feels really good,” Harris said. “You just like those kinds of situations. If you get going you can help your teammates get going.”
After a quiet first eight games of the regular season, Harris finally broke out. He made six of his first seven shots and his 3-pointer in the closing seconds gave him 17 points in the first half, nearly outscoring the Wildcats by himself as Gonzaga led 39-21. He finished making 11 of 15 shots and added a game-high eight rebounds, an area Gonzaga held a 40-26 advantage over the undersized Wildcats.
No matter whom Arizona (7-3) lined up against Harris — usually either Jesse Perry or Solomon Hill — they couldn’t slow him down. Whenever he wanted to score, he did, even hitting both of his 3-point attempts to show off his range.
“On the biggest stage … he played like a veteran should, like a leader,” Gonzaga guard Gary Bell Jr. said.
The Bulldogs appeared headed toward an easy rout and perhaps a short day for their starters after a taxing week that included a home loss to Michigan State, finals, a win over Oral Roberts and a one-day turnaround before facing Arizona.
“I told them that might be as tough of a week as we’ve had in quite a while,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
Gonzaga led by 20 in the opening stages of the second half before Arizona finally woke up. The Wildcats slowly chipped away and could have gotten closer sooner if not for the contribution of Gonzaga reserve center Sam Dower, who finished with 10 points and scored eight straight during a three-minute stretch of the second half when Arizona started to trim the deficit.
Arizona finally cut the deficit in half on Perry’s basket with 7:48 left. Harris and Mike Hart scored for Gonzaga but the Wildcats kept charging and Jordin Mayes’ basket off a back screen with 3:33 left finally got Arizona back within single digits.
Mayes continued to shine in the closing minutes, blocking Kevin Pangos’ drive from behind. That led to a pair of free throws for Hill that got the Wildcats within 60-54 with 2:44 remaining. Nick Johnson later hit a pair of free throws with 1:20 left to cut the deficit to 64-58, but that was as close as the Wildcats would get. Harris scored easily after breaking Arizona’s pressure and the Bulldogs hit 5 of 6 free throws in the final 45 seconds.
The Wildcats’ sluggish start only added to what’s been a giant black eye for the Pac-12 during the non-conference season. Arizona took No. 13 Florida to overtime on Dec. 7 in Gainesville before losing, then flopped in the first of two trips to Seattle this season.
Kyle Fogg led Arizona with 14 points — 12 coming in the second half — and Johnson added 13, but Miller was at such a loss during Gonzaga’s early flurry he burned three of his timeouts in the first 12 minutes trying to slow the Bulldogs roll.
“When you’re trying to do the things we’re trying to do and you go on the road here as we enter Christmas, you don’t want to be down 22-4. It’s just a hard thing,” Miller said. “When I play at home with my kids on Xbox and I get down, I reset the game and start over. I feel like I needed to see if we could do that in this situation.”
Arizona missed its first seven shots and was just 10 of 32 shooting in the first half. Even more troubling was the lack of aggressiveness as the Wildcats settled for jumpers and attempted just one free throw the first 20 minutes.
“We just weren’t moving on offense,” Fogg said. “We were like a doughnut, all standing around the 3-point line just passing it around.”