SALT LAKE CITY — When Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk finished his sophomore season two years ago, he was unsatisfied. The 7-footer from Kamloops, British Columbia, expected more of himself than the 5.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per game he was producing in 13.5 minutes. Olynyk knew he was better than those numbers showed, so he made the tough decision to sit out a season and redshirt.
“I think between Kelly and ourselves we kinda came to the conclusion that it might be a good move to redshirt him,” said Zags coach Mark Few. “He was frustrated in that he was kinda stuck in a logjam of good players.
“ I think he also realized that he wasn’t quite where he wanted to be physically or maybe quite with his skill development. And he and I weren’t on the same page. I was frustrated with him. I wanted him to take his game inside more.”
Olynyk used his time away from playing games to get better physically — “I got in the weight room a lot, tried to change my body and my athleticism,” he said — and to view the game a little differently.
“In that redshirt year, I got to see the game from the coaches’ perspective and see what the coaches wanted and how the coaches wanted the game to run.”
His work physically and mentally certainly paid off. Olynyk was named the West Coast Conference Player of the Year and will certainly make a few All-American teams after he averaged 17.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.1 blocks per game in 26 minutes during his redshirt junior season. Along with standout teammates Elias Harris, Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell and Co., Olynyk has the Zags as a No. 1 seed and all set to face ninth-seeded Wichita State today at EnergySolutions Arena. The game tips off at 6:40 p.m. and will be shown on TNT.
Olynyk is the focus of the Bulldogs’ attack. With that in mind, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall has a plan to try to slow him down.
“You’ve got to make him spend some time on that (defensive) end of the floor guarding,” he said. “He can run. He can put the ball on the floor. He can post. He can get dunks in transition and off offensive rebounds. So we are going to have to guard him, put a body on him at all times and be there to help.”
With that game plan, the Shockers aren’t intimidated by the Zags. After taking it to Pitt and really dominating the Panthers, they have the confidence they can play with the Bulldogs.
“Gonzaga is the No. 1 team in the country, so they are pretty good,” said senior guard Malcolm Armstead. “They are good defensively and offensively and they execute well. They have good, big guards and you have to execute our game plan. (I am) looking forward to the game.”
Wichita hangs its hat on its toughness, rebounding and defense. It held Pitt to 35 percent shooting, including a dismal 1 of 17 from the 3-point line.
“For us, I say it’s defense and rebounding, something we strive on” said Ron Baker about where the reputation for toughness comes from. “We want to lock down one possession at a time, get a rebound and get in transition and you know, get easy buckets.
“ We want to be physical with you up and down the court and that’s something we focus on, playing angry and being physical with whoever we play.”
So with the knowledge the Shockers will employ a tough, physical game plan against the Zags, how will the No. 1 team respond and what can fans expect?
“Be physical right back,” said Pangos. “We don’t shy away from that — our team is tough. We don’t back down from that at all.”
Michael Black is a writer, editor and page designer at the Deseret News in Salt Lake City. He has been involved in the publication of the paper for the last nine years with an emphasis in sports