PORTLAND – There have been some subtle and perhaps even a few significant changes in Gonzaga’s and Portland’s basketball teams since the Bulldogs’ 74-61 victory over the Pilots nearly a month ago.
That’s standard procedure as teams gear up for the second half of the WCC race, which begins with Gonzaga visiting Portland Thursday night at the Chiles Center. Teams often tinker with personnel while adding and subtracting to their game plans for the stretch drive.
“The good ones don’t remake it as much because they’re good,” Portland coach Eric Reveno said. “Last year Loyola Marymount kind of remade itself and became really good. The trick from a coaching perspective is trying to improve and not change for change’s sake. For us, we need to be mindful of adding offensive wrinkles, but offense wasn’t our biggest problem. It was defense, so we needed to focus our attention there.”
Gonzaga hounded the Pilots’ accomplished perimeter shooters, forcing them to make plays off the dribble. Portland committed 20 turnovers, leading to 21 GU points. Reveno inserted freshman point guard Tim Douglas into the starting lineup last week and he responded with 40 points in two victories to share WCC player of the week honors with Saint Mary’s Mickey McConnell.
“His defense improved to the point where there wasn’t a significant difference with (Eric) Waterford or (Derrick) Rodgers,” Reveno said. “He gives us the ability to create and be more aggressive offensively. People had game-planned for us based on our wing shooters and a facilitator at point. He’s more of a wild card at the point.”
Gonzaga appears to be considering a change at point guard. David Stockton played 49 minutes in two games last week and started the second half of Saturday’s win over San Diego. Demetri Goodson, who played 34 minutes in last week’s games, has started all 22 games and 33 of 34 last season.
In the Pilots’ four WCC wins, they’ve held opponents below 40 percent shooting. Saint Mary’s made 39 percent of its shots and just 10 of 31 3-pointers during an 85-70 loss at the Chiles Center.
“Last year we had a very veteran team and I wasn’t sure how we would get better, so it felt more like redoubling your efforts and buckling down,” Reveno said. “This year I feel we could do better the second time around, but I don’t know if the results will be any better.”
Senior forward Luke Sikma is averaging nearly 16 points in conference after scoring 12.4 per non-conference game. Reveno said Sikma has been more aggressive, adding that “it might be a case of a guy becoming more comfortable and being the go-to guy, the guy that the team needs to rely on.”
Gonzaga still has concerns in that department. Head coach Mark Few said games in the second half of the conference season tend to be “grinders, things get jammed up, especially maybe for some teams that don’t score as easily. Statistically, our numbers have been pretty good, but finding those baskets down the stretch of the game is something we need to continue to work on.
“We just don’t have a guy we can count on that can deliver us a basket at a tough time or maybe that we can count on to get to the free-throw line.”
The Pilots are 12-0 at home, including wins over Boise State, Nevada and Utah in a nine-day span.
“The fact that they were up 25 against Saint Mary’s says a lot about them,” Few said. “I’m sure they’re at the most confident place they’ve been all season. We’ve had some success against them this year and in the past. We need to draw on that, execute and play with some poise.”