PORTLAND – Unable to put Portland away, Gonzaga was forced to endure an uncomfortable final few seconds as Pilots’ deadeye shooter Jared Stohl caught a pass, quickly turned and launched a potential game-tying 3-pointer.
After all, Stohl had made 6 of 8 3-pointers to that point, several from NBA range.
“I saw the ball flying in the air and I was like, ‘That’s going in, for real,’ ” Bulldogs senior guard Matt Bouldin said. “I was right under the hoop. I thought that was money when he let it go, then I saw it coming off a little left.”
Stohl’s off-balance shot hit the front iron and bounced away as Gonzaga hung on for a hard-fought 81-78 win in front of a packed house of 5,003 Saturday at the Chiles Center in the West Coast Conference basketball opener for both teams.
The 19th-ranked Bulldogs (12-3) led virtually the entire way, often by 10-13 points, but they could never deliver the knockout blow. The Pilots (9-6), specifically Stohl and Robin Smeulders, who poured in 15 of his game-high 24 points in the second half, had a lot to do with that as Portland whittled an 11-point deficit to three in the final four minutes of play.
Bouldin made 6 of 6 free throws in the last 33 seconds to maintain GU’s two-possession lead, but Stohl’s 3 with nine ticks remaining closed the gap to 81-78. Bol Kong, who had a huge second half with 12 points, missed two free throws with 4.6 seconds remaining and Portland pushed the ball down the floor and into Stohl’s hands in front of the Pilots’ bench.
When Stohl’s shot bounced harmlessly off the iron, Gonzaga was finally able to celebrate its fourth consecutive win. GU has won 13 straight in the series and hasn’t lost on the Pilots’ home court since 1996.
“They’re really skilled and they know how to find shooters,” said Bouldin, who finished with 20 points, nine assists and no turnovers in 40 minutes. “It’s almost impossible not to help when they’re driving and kicking it out. It’s against all basketball instincts not to help.”
Gonzaga survived rough nights by Steven Gray, who was in early foul trouble, and Robert Sacre, who was in foul trouble throughout and played just 15 minutes. Kong, who scored seven straight points as GU widened a 53-51 lead to 60-52, and Kelly Olynyk combined for 25 points. The pair hit three of Gonzaga’s six 3-pointers and also contributed 11 rebounds.
“It’s about being more aggressive and having more confidence,” Olynyk said. “We’re getting into the second part of the year and our bench is going to need to step it up.”
Bouldin was the glue throughout. He had six assists, buried back-to-back 3s and added another jumper as Gonzaga repelled a first-half rally by Portland to take a 42-36 lead at the break.
“That’s exactly what you want your lead guard to do on the road,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “And we did a great job of finding him at the end of the game and putting him on the line. That ended up being big because we weren’t stopping them.”
Freshman forward Elias Harris helped stake Gonzaga to an early lead. He made 5 of 6 shots and scored 13 of his 18 points in the first half. Gonzaga had no trouble getting open looks and made 16 of 23 from the field (69.6 percent) in the opening 20 minutes. The Bulldogs were 13 of 15 on two-point attempts.
They cooled off in the second half and finished at 49.1 percent. Both teams struggled at the free-throw line (Gonzaga 19 of 29, Portland 11 of 20).
“We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game and nothing was going to come easy down here,” Few said. “Portland’s a heck of a team, I thought that last year and now they’re a year older and more experienced and they’ve been able to add some intricate sets they didn’t have last year.
“They can really shoot the ball, especially in this gym. For us to hang in and hold them off, that’s a good step for us.”
(19) Gonzaga 81, Portland 78
Percentages: FG 49.1, FT 65.5. 3-Point Goals: 6-21, 28.6 (Harris 1-2, Goodson 0-1, Bouldin 2-8, Gray 0-5, Olynyk 1-1, Kong 2-4). Team Rebounds: 4. Blocked Shots: 1 (Sacre 1). Turnovers: 7 (Gray 3). Steals: 3 (Harris, Bouldin, Olynyk 1). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG 50.0, FT 55.0. 3-Point Goals: 7-19, 36.8 (Niedermeyer 1-5, Raivio 0-3, Campbell 0-2, Stohl 6-9). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 3 (Niedermeyer, Smeulders, Sikma 1). Turnovers: 4 (Raivio 3). Steals: 2 (Raivio, Ito 1). Technical Fouls: None.
Halftime–Gonzaga 42, Portland 36. A–5,003.