The defense didn’t rest.
Of the many things that went right for Gonzaga Bulldogs on Thursday, it was their wire-to-wire adhesive defense that fueled a surprisingly easy 76-49 West Coast Conference men’s basketball victory over Portland in front of a noisy crowd of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
The 17th-ranked Bulldogs (18-4, 7-1 WCC) remained in a first-place tie with Saint Mary’s, a 74-62 winner over Santa Clara. The Gaels visit Gonzaga on Thursday. Gonzaga squeezes in an important nonconference date at Memphis on Saturday.
“That was our best defensive performance of the season – for 40 minutes, not just for certain times,” Bulldogs freshman forward Elias Harris said. “And you can see what happens when we play like that for 40 minutes.”
The Pilots, typically one of the most productive offenses in the WCC, found little room to operate and few open looks at the basket. Their 49 points were just one more than their season low. Their 35.8 percent shooting was their third-worst effort of the season. Their 16 turnovers led to 24 Gonzaga points.
Gonzaga, rebounding from an overtime loss to San Francisco, buried Portland with a 26-6 run over the final 7:30 of the first half to take a commanding 41-21 lead.
“We’ve been playing well offensively and they did a great job against us, particularly their physicality in the post and their pressure off the ball was outstanding,” Portland coach Eric Reveno said. “I can’t imagine them playing better defensively than they played in the first half.”
The 49 points were Gonzaga’s best defensive effort against a Division I opponent this season. D-III Augustana scored 40 points against the Bulldogs.
Center Robert Sacre blocked four shots and helped limit Robin Smeulders, who scored 24 points in the first meeting on Jan. 9, to 12 points on 4-of-12 shooting. Point guard T.J. Campbell was 1 of 10 from the field and tied his season low with three points.
The Bulldogs contested Portland shots in the paint and beyond the 3-point line.
“That’s the way we were effective against Michigan State and Cincinnati (earlier this season),” head coach Mark Few said. “We kind of lost our way, playing a little reactive, a little finessey, staying grounded. We have to get back to protecting the rim for us to be as good as we can be.”
Manny Arop and Demetri Goodson triggered Gonzaga’s decisive first-half run, which started with mainstays Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray temporarily on the bench. Arop, whose eight points highlighted a 24-point contribution by the bench, pulled down an offensive rebound and scored in traffic with 7:25 left, triggering a 20-2 burst. Goodson chipped in five points and Arop made a 3-pointer as GU went in front 27-17.
Grant Gibbs added a three-point play and Bouldin, shortly after checking in for Harris, struck for field goals on three straight possessions as the Bulldogs’ lead grew to 18. Arop’s putback with 20 seconds left put GU ahead by 20 at intermission.
“Manny played great,” Harris said. “He gave us great energy from the moment he came in.”
The Bulldogs didn’t let up in the second half, moving on top by 25 on Harris’ basket and Goodson’s 3-point play. Eleven Bulldogs scored as GU led by as many as 31.
Bouldin made four 3-pointers and scored 20 points to move past Rich Evans and Casey Calvary into 10th place on the school’s all-time scoring list (1,518 points). Goodson had 12 points.
(17) Gonzaga 76, Portland 49
Percentages: FG .358, FT .625. 3-Point Goals: 6-22, .273 (Mitrovic 2-5, Stohl 2-7, Niedermeyer 1-3, Campbell 1-7). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 0. Turnovers: 16 (Campbell 7, Niedermeyer 3, Stohl 2, Sikma, Mitrovic, Knutson, Smeulders). Steals: 4 (Knutson 2, Smeulders, Campbell). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .500, FT .500. 3-Point Goals: 7-18, .389 (Bouldin 4-8, Hart 1-1, Goodson 1-1, Arop 1-2, Olynyk 0-1, Kong 0-1, Gray 0-2, Harris 0-2). Team Rebounds: 5. Blocked Shots: 4 (Sacre 4). Turnovers: 10 (Harris 4, Sacre, Bouldin, Gray, Gibbs, Olynyk). Steals: 11 (Arop 3, Harris 3, Olynyk 2, Goodson 2, Sacre). Technical Fouls: None.
Halftime–Gonzaga 41, Portland 21. A–6,000.