There was no post-holiday break lull, no in-game lapses.
Gonzaga dominated from start to finish, routing Portland 90-51 Wednesday in the West Coast Conference men’s basketball opener for both teams. A full house of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center witnessed Gonzaga’s easiest win of the season and its most lopsided victory over the Pilots since a 47-point blowout in 1999.
The Bulldogs improved to 10-2 with their fifth straight win. Portland (3-11) dropped its seventh straight.
“It can be rough sometimes,” senior center Robert Sacre said of the first game following Christmas, when players return after enjoying a few days off. “We just knew that Portland always comes in and gives us a struggle so we wanted to play our game and kind of set a tone for league.”
Every Bulldog saw at least eight minutes of playing time and 11 cracked the scoring column. Of more importance was the fact that Sacre, bothered by a thumb injury in GU’s last game six days ago, returned to form with 13 points and five boards, and senior guard Marquise Carter, who has struggled for most of the last month, was solid with four assists, two steals, two rebounds and two points in 15 minutes.
Kevin Pangos made five 3-pointers and scored a team-high 19 points in 21 minutes. Sam Dower had 15 points and freshman Ryan Spangler added a season-high 11 points.
“I think the tape is a better option for Rob than ‘The Claw’,” said head coach Mark Few, referring to the bulky brace Sacre wore against Air Force. “He felt better. He just couldn’t catch the ball the other night.”
Carter has been fine defensively, but he hasn’t found his stride offensively.
“I had the same problem last year in the first part (of the season),” Carter said. “But the first half is gone and I can’t do anything about it. I’m focused on conference play and the games ahead. I just tried to take advantage of the minutes I got.”
Carter pointed out that Gonzaga had 52 pass deflections, well above their team goal of 32. Portland, typically one of the best perimeter-shooting teams in the country, made a season-low 29.7 percent from the field, including 20 percent beyond the 3-point arc.
Nemanja Mitrovic, sixth nationally in 3-point percentage (46.3) last season, connected on just 3 of 8 field goals and finished with 10 points. He’s shooting 33 percent from long distance this season. Gonzaga Prep product Ryan Nicholas finished with four points, seven below his average, but he grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds.
Gary Bell Jr. got the defensive assignment on Mitrovic before switching to Tim Douglas in the second half.
“I just tried to pressure (Mitrovic) whenever he got the ball and stay attached on screens,” Bell said. “I wanted to make him bounce it so he didn’t have any easy shots because that’s when he gets going.”
Gonzaga scored the first seven points and led 15-4 barely 5 minutes in after a Pangos’ 3. The margin swelled to 24 at half. The Bulldogs, who haven’t delivered the knockout blow when afforded a couple opportunities earlier this season, ran off 10 unanswered points midway through the second half and led by as many as 42.
“I always think getting exposed, even if you’re not sure how to fix it, is good,” Portland coach Eric Reveno said. “The conference race is going to be tough and a lot of teams are going to come up here and lose. Our young guys got a harsh welcome in to the WCC.”