The WCC standings speak loud and clear: Gonzaga, at 11-1, is in control, leading by 3½ games over its closest pursuer. But on the court, it’s also clear the Bulldogs have their hands full with just about every conference team.
Portland, picked ninth in the preseason poll, sits in sixth place after last night’s down-to-the-wire 71-66 loss to GU. But the Pilots own wins over Gonzaga (last month) and BYU. I'm still wondering how Portland is in sixth place.
Gonzaga needed Sam Dower Jr.’s buzzer-beater to defeat Santa Clara, tied with LMU for last place. Gonzaga trailed the Lions in the second half before rallying for a win in L.A. The Bulldogs edged visiting San Diego, now in seventh place, 65-63. In general, GU has handled the upper half in the standings, but still faces road rematches with BYU and Saint Mary's.
So, Gonzaga keeps winning but objects in the rear-view mirror are closer than they appear.
Here’s my game story and Colin Mulvany's photo gallery. More from Portland sports information and A.P. Here's a glance at Saturday's opponent Memphis and a notebook item on Dower's not-so-Super Sunday.
More below in my day-after Portland post.
—Well, that was interesting. Gonzaga looked unstoppable, building a 35-13 lead after the second of David Stockton’s two consecutive 3s with 5:11 remaining in the first half.
The Bulldogs’ defense was exceptional, forcing turnovers that were converted into 13 of their 40 first-half points. Deep into the half, it appeared Portland might not crack 20 points.
GU’s offense, despite just three points from Dower and zero from Przemek Karnowski, was hovering around 60-percent shooting as four Zags hit from beyond the 3-point arc. The Bulldogs were 7 of 9 on 3s before missing their final two attempts of the half.
“They were sort of stunned,” Pilots coach Eric Reveno said of the first half. “You try to talk about it. We were cranking “Zombie Nation” in practice and trying to create that environment, but there was no sneaking up on Gonzaga after our game down there.”
Then, the Zags looked lost, and it was Portland’s turn to dominate. Gonzaga started to spend some of its 22-point lead in the final 2 minutes of the half. The Pilots carried that momentum into the second half. They outscored GU 41-16 over a 15-minute, 20-second span of both halves to take a 54-51 lead.
The Bulldogs’ concentration and effort level slipped, perhaps best reflected in Portland's 20-13 edge in rebounding in the second half.
“Sometimes we get in stages where we’re trading baskets or not playing with intensity on defense, that’s where it starts,” Stockton said. “We have to be really talking. I think we missed a lot of shots. I don’t think it was too much of anything they were doing. They were bodying up on us on our finishes and making them trickle off. After we got a couple body bumps we weren’t going inside and we weren’t in attack mode. We took bad shots and missed open ones.”
Karnowski finished with just 3 points on 1-of-5 shooting. Dower scored in the first 40 seconds but had a few lengthy stints on the bench with two fouls. Dower was held in check until coming through with six straight points to put Gonzaga on top 58-56.
The bigs weren’t the only ones struggling. Kevin Pangos, like Dower, finished with a late rush, scoring 7 of his 13 points in the final 1:40, including a big 3. He finished just 2 of 8 on FG attempts. Gary Bell Jr. had a season-low two points on 1-of-4 shooting.
GU’s perimeter shooting went dry. The Zags missed their first six 3s of the half.
“It was a mixture of things,” Dower said. “We let off our guard a lot, we had a pretty big lead and came out nonchalant. They made shots, they played harder than us.”
And the final 5 minutes? “David and Kev stepped up and made some big shots, some big free throws,” Dower said. “It’s college basketball, we kept fighting until we got the win.”
—With the starters struggling, Angel Nunez, Kyle Dranginis and Drew Barham generated 28 of GU’s 30 bench points. Twenty-three of those came in the first half when Gonzaga opened up a comfortable lead.
Barham drained three straight 3s. Nunez dunked on a feed from Pangos shortly after checking into the game and then had a nice one-bounce driving layup. Dranginis had five points, two assists and a steal in nine first-half minutes. Gerard Coleman had a nice bucket off penetration in the second half and chipped in an assist in 10 minutes.
“I love playing with him,” Stockton said on Nunez. “An athlete like that, I think this league has trouble with and he needs to be mindful of that.”
STATS OF NOTE
—Few is 28-2 vs. Portland. Reveno is 1-15 vs. Gonzaga.
—Pangos is 5 of 24 from the field, 3 of 12 on 3s, in the last three games. Over the last seven games, he’s made just 12 of 39 3s for 31%, including a 6-of-10 effort vs. BYU.
—Pangos had four rebounds, four assists and three steals.
—Karnowski had nine boards and four blocks.
—Nunez’s 13 points equaled his season high.
—Coming off their two worst shooting games of the season (35% vs. Santa Clara and 39% vs. USF), the Zags made 56.5 percent in the first half. They slumped to 35 percent in the second half, despite making their last four FG attempts.
—GU had just two turnovers in the second half, eight in the first.
—Portland made 6 of 8 second-half 3s and 8 of 12 overall.
Reveno: “My general take is pretty disappointing. I sort of challenged our guys to let it hurt a little bit. I think we’ve proven we can play with a lot of people, including Gonzaga, and I’d like for us to be a little more consistent. But at the same time, to fight back in this building – I’ve had seven other teams come up here and not come back like that. So you have to be proud of that. It’s a double-edged sword.”
Stockton on the final 5 minutes: “It was defense. It was get a stop, get a rebound and run quality offense. We call it winning time. That’s when we get the game at our pace and finish the game.”
Stockton on Portland: “They’re a tough team, a scrappy bunch of guys and they can hit shots.”
Portland senior forward Ryan Nicholas: “We should have had them really. We dug ourselves a hole, but in the end that doesn’t matter when we come back like that (and) get up by four. You can say we showed some heart coming back, but frankly we dropped an opportunity.”