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Zags win WCC opener against Portland

Gonzaga’s lead, once as large as 18, was down to three in the second half and Portland had seized momentum.

Sixty seconds later, the Bulldogs had rattled off nine points and they were on their way to their 15th straight victory over the Pilots, this one a 74-61 men’s basketball decision Saturday in front of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

Every one of those nine points underscored the defining statistics in the West Coast Conference opener for both schools.

The run started with senior guard Steven Gray’s driving layup. He finished with a game-high 19 points and was the only Bulldog to reach double figures, though GU’s balance resulted in eight players scoring between four and nine points.

Next came a Demetri Goodson steal – one of the Pilots’ season-high 20 turnovers – and he dished to Kelly Olynyk for a layup. Olynyk followed with a 3-pointer – his seven points contributed to GU’s 32-12 edge in bench points – and Gonzaga’s lead was 10.

Elias Harris followed with another steal and a pair of free throws to cap the burst, giving Gonzaga a 67-55 lead with 5:40 remaining. The Bulldogs connected on 19 of 24 free throws to Portland’s 6 of 8.

“We put on much more ball pressure,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, whose club collected its seventh straight win and improved to 11-5 overall. “We wanted to get after them because they’re so good when they’re comfortable in their system.”

Portland’s shooting numbers were impressive. The Pilots (12-4) made 52.2 percent from the field and the nation’s top 3-point percentage team hit 7 of 12 (58.3 percent) from long distance, but their efficiency was minimized by 20 turnovers, six by point guard Eric Waterford and four by Nemanja Mitrovic.

Gonzaga converted those turnovers into 21 points. Meanwhile, GU committed nine turnovers, resulting in just five points for the Pilots.

“Given our team this year, I was hopeful for a different beginning,” Pilots coach Eric Reveno said, “but when you turn it over like we did it’s not surprising for that to happen. We did some things to feel good about and we also did some things that we know we need to be able to do better.”

Gonzaga dominated the first half. Gray scored 13 points in roughly the first 13 minutes and Mathis Mönninghoff, who sat out the last two games with a swollen ankle, made three 3-pointers as Gonzaga led 47-29.

The Bulldogs’ offense stalled in the second half. They missed their first seven shots. Their first field goal came with 12:48 left on a David Stockton layup. By then, the Pilots had narrowed the deficit to six and they would close within 56-53 after Luke Sikma’s layup capped a 7-0 run.

“Offensively, it might have come a little too easily in the first half,” Few said. “We just got a little bit tentative in the second half.”

GU’s 9-0 spurt provided some breathing room. Portland made just two field goals, one by ex-Gonzaga Prep standout Ryan Nicholas with 18 seconds remaining, and four free throws in the last 7 minutes.

Rober Sacre and Harris, who was in early foul trouble, had a fairly quiet night, combining for 16 points and five rebounds. Olynyk contributed seven points and eight boards and Sam Dower scored four points in seven minutes. Manny Arop chipped in eight points, three rebounds and two assists and Stockton added four points.

“I thought the bench came in and brought energy,” Arop said. “Kelly hit that big 3 and that other basket and that kind of made the gap bigger. From there, we caught fire and good defense leads to good offense.”

Mitrovic paced the Pilots with 16 points, connecting on 4 of 5 3-pointers. Waterford had 12 points and Sikma finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

“I just told the guys it was a game of poise,” Reveno said. “On the road, you have to have some toughness and you need to make some plays at key moments. They made some plays at key moments.”