SPOKANE — The raucous student section at No. 2 Gonzaga’s arena had no doubt where the Zags should be ranked when The Associated Press’ Top 25 comes out on Monday.
“We’re No. 1! We’re No. 1!” the students shouted as the clock wound down in Gonzaga’s 81-52 victory over Portland on Saturday.
Coach Mark Few was a little more restrained, noting the polls are out of his control.
“It’s never happened here before,” Few said of a No. 1 ranking. “It would be an honor. If they think that highly of us we’ll take it.”
But a minute later Few also betrayed some amazement that the little Jesuit school from Spokane could reach the pinnacle of college basketball.
“At the end of the day it would be pretty cool for Gonzaga to be No. 1,” Few said. “My first year here we won four Division I games.”
Elias Harris scored 20 points and 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.
Few noted Gonzaga’s 16-0 conference record is a first for the recently expanded WCC. And no Gonzaga team has ever won 30 games in a season.
But the goal is not to pile up numbers, he said.
“We want to go to the NCAA tournament and try to win the thing,” Few said.
Harris said he didn’t care if Gonzaga was ranked No. 1. He would prefer that Gonzaga continue to play as well as it has been playing into the postseason.
“Everything else is talk if you don’t play well,” Harris said.
Derrick Rodgers scored 10 points for Portland (11-20, 4-12), which has lost 18 straight to Gonzaga dating to 2003.
“They are a very good basketball team without many, any, weaknesses,” Portland coach Eric Reveno said. “Right now, given what’s going on, I think they should be No. 1.”
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.