At this time a year ago Portland was 12-3 with solid home wins against UC Santa Barbara, Saint Louis, Boise State, Nevada and Utah and a road victory at Montana. The Pilots lost to all six in return games this season.
Add in dates with Washington, Washington State and Kentucky and the Pilots tote a 3-10 mark into Wednesday night’s West Coast Conference opener against Gonzaga (9-2) at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Portland’s young roster – gone are multiyear starters Jared Stohl, Luke Sikma and Kramer Knutson – has experienced growing pains, an untimely knee injury to Riley Barker and inconsistency at both ends of the court.
“Our stat sheet isn’t very strong, but there are times you watch us play and we’re OK,” head coach Eric Reveno said. “Other times, we struggle.”
In retrospect, Reveno acknowledges that the schedule was a bit too much, but his options are limited.
“We’re sort of stuck in a spot in terms of finances and opportunity,” he said. “Maybe we had a couple of games that could have eased our schedule.
“I’m not concerned about the record as much as confidence and knowing how to win and believing in ourselves. I can say all I want but the guys can see the results. We need to grow from the experience and I think we will in the long term with our big freshmen and sophomore classes. I just don’t want to wait for it to happen until next year.”
Reveno likes his team’s athleticism and he’s seeing improvement from the youngsters. Former Gonzaga Prep standout Ryan Nicholas, a 6-foot-7 sophomore forward who averaged 2.7 points last season, has made perhaps the biggest jump. He’s the team leader in scoring (11.3 points) and rebounding (7.2).
“He worked really hard in the offseason so you knew he was going to find a way to be successful,” Reveno said. “He’s shooting a jump hook against bigger guys, he’s able to step away and hit an open shot and attack guys and get to the free-throw line.”
Senior guard Nemanja Mitrovic, an All-WCC first-team selection last year after making 46.3 percent of his 3-point attempts and averaging 13.5 points, has struggled thus far. He’s averaging 9.5 points and shooting just 32 percent beyond the 3-point line.