PORTLAND – Gonzaga wouldn’t object to closing the first half of the West Coast Conference season the same way it started.
The Bulldogs blasted Portland 90-51 nearly a month ago in Spokane, but they’re not expecting an easy time of it in the rematch tonight at the Chiles Center. Gonzaga coach Mark Few cited several historical examples of his team thumping a WCC opponent at home but experiencing a dogfight on the foe’s home court, including the last two years against the Pilots. Gonzaga won by three points on each of its last two visits to the Chiles Center, compared to home wins of 27 and 13.
Nearly every team plays better at home, but several WCC teams take it to extremes against Gonzaga, in part because GU’s arrival tends to bring out the biggest crowd of the season. Last year the Bulldogs routed San Francisco by 17 at the McCarthey Athletic Center after falling in overtime at USF. Gonzaga had its hands full at Santa Clara in 2008, 2009 and 2010 while blistering the Broncos by 34, 42 and 37 at the MAC.
“They’re going to come out fighting, I know they are,” Few said. “The home team always plays with great energy and usually when you see those cave-in efforts, it’s with nobody in the stands. We never get that. It’s about getting your team to play with poise and match or beat the home team’s effort.”
Portland’s two WCC wins came at home against Santa Clara and Pepperdine. The Pilots, who lost at USF by 34, nearly reversed that outcome before falling 72-71 at home last Saturday.
“Rematch games are a lot more dangerous,” Gonzaga center Robert Sacre said. “They’ve seen your first punch and they know how to counter, so you have to be ready with more punches.”
Gonzaga (16-3, 6-1) trails Saint Mary’s by one game in the loss column.
Jammin’ for Sam
After slamming home two points in Gonzaga’s 77-60 win over San Diego on Saturday, Sacre ran down court and pointed at someone in the crowd behind the scorer’s table, but it wasn’t, as many thought, a gesture directed at former Zag great John Stockton.
“It was for (John’s son) Sammy, the youngest of the Stocktons,” Sacre said. “Sam, David (Stockton, GU sophomore point guard) and I went to lunch and Sam said, ‘If you dunk it, can you point at me?’ I was like, ‘OK, I’ll do it.’ I promised him.”
Dower finds power switch
Gonzaga forward Sam Dower had a tough stretch that lasted a game and a half.
He had five turnovers in Thursday’s win over San Francisco and then went 0 of 5 from the field in the first half versus San Diego. The second half was a different story as Dower made 5 of 6 shots and finished with 15 points.
“I told him afterward in front of the team that the hardest thing to do in sports, whether it’s basketball, baseball or golf, if you’re having a bad round, the toughest thing is to flip the switch while you’re playing and not wait to fix it on the range,” Few said. “And he did that.”
Santa Clara, coming off a 24-win season and CIT championship, was picked to finish fifth in the WCC. The Broncos started out 7-3, but they’ve lost their last seven and sit at the bottom of the WCC standings.
Things haven’t gone well on or off the court. Guard Kevin Foster, the WCC’s leading scorer, was arrested Sunday morning for suspicion of driving under the influence, according to two Bay Area newspapers. Foster didn’t play in Monday’s loss to Loyola Marymount and will remain on the sidelines while the university’s student judicial process continues, according to an SCU release.
Two hours before Foster’s arrest, point guard Evan Roquemore was cited for an open container violation.
He played but didn’t start against LMU. Two other regulars, Niyi Harrison and John McArthur, were held out of the starting lineup for undisclosed reasons.
Santa Clara’s 0-6 conference start is the worst in school history.