SPOKANE, Wash. – Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett figured his veteran team wouldn't need any halftime pep talks at this point in the season.
He was wrong.
The Gaels trailed No. 9 Gonzaga by 18 points at halftime on Thursday night, then made a furious comeback in the second half before finally losing 83-78.
"We're way too experienced," Bennett said. "We're way too far along to be having that halftime conversation about competing hard.
"We can't be a one-half ballclub and beat a team like this," he added. "We just have to get tougher inside."
Kelly Olynyk scored 31 points to lead the Bulldogs in the latest installment of one of the best rivalries on the West Coast.
Kevin Pangos added 22 for Gonzaga (16-1, 3-0 West Coast Conference), which has won seven straight since losing at home to Illinois.
"They've done a heck of a job to get to 16-1," Bulldogs coach Mark Few said. "We've had emotional game after emotional game after emotional game."
It was Olynyk's second consecutive 30-point game, the first time a Gonzaga player has done that since Adam Morrison in 2006.
Stephen Holt led Saint Mary's (12-4, 1-1) with 23 points.
Gonzaga led by 20 early in the second half but had to stave off a late rally by the Gaels.
"We played fantastic in the first half," Few said. "They played fantastic in the second half. But we made just enough plays to get the W."
Holt hit three baskets and two free throws in a 90-second span to cut Gonzaga's lead to 55-44 with 13:27 left. Two more buckets by Holt and two by Kyle Rowley made it 59-53, as the Bulldogs suddenly couldn't find the basket.
After a flurry of shots trimmed Gonzaga's advantage to three at one point, Olynyk's layup put the Zags ahead 76-69 with 3:32 left.
Matthew Dellavedova's 3-pointer cut Gonzaga's lead to 79-76 with 1:15 to go. Olynyk could not score on the other end, but Gonzaga got the ball back on a tie up with 49 seconds left.
Pangos missed with 26 seconds left and Dellavedova was fouled on the other end, making both to cut Gonzaga's lead to 79-78 with 15 seconds left.
"It would be nice to get some 30- or 40-point blowouts," Few said. "We've been in enough close games."
Olynyk was fouled on the inbounds play and sank both free throws for an 81-78 lead.
Dellavedova missed a long 3-point attempt with 6.9 seconds left, and the Gaels were forced to foul. Pangos hit two free throws to seal it.
"Pangos was huge down the stretch," Few said.
Dellavedova, the Gaels' leading scorer, had 14 points on 4-of-15 shooting.
"He has to make shots," Bennett said. "No excuses. ... He has to play better than that if we are going to win."
In the first half, Saint Mary's made only one of its first nine shots while falling behind 9-2. The Gaels fought back to trail by five points, but an 8-2 run gave the Zags a 35-24 lead.
Dellavedova sank a 3-pointer, but after that Saint Mary's made only one field goal in the final 5 minutes of the first half and Gonzaga closed with an 11-1 run to take a 46-28 halftime lead. Olynyk had 17 first-half points (on 8-of-10 shooting) for Gonzaga, which shot 58 percent while holding the Gaels to 31 percent (9 of 29).
"I wasn't very pleased with our first half," Bennett said. "I didn't think our bigs competed very well."
Saint Mary's has emerged in recent years as the strongest challenger to Gonzaga's dominance of the WCC. Last season, the Gaels beat the Zags to capture both the WCC regular season and tournament titles. The Gaels had won four of their previous seven games against Gonzaga.
"There's no quit in them," Few said.
Gonzaga is 113-8 in the McCarthey Athletic Center since it opened in 2004.