Portland, which handed Gonzaga its only WCC loss, was determined to make it two in a row over the Bulldogs.
Gonzaga seniors David Stockton and Sam Dower Jr. and junior guard Kevin Pangos didn’t let it happen.
The trio scored Gonzaga’s final 20 points as the Bulldogs withstood Portland’s huge second-half rally and held on for a 71-66 victory in front of 6,000 Wednesday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
No. 23 Gonzaga (21-3, 11-1 WCC), which visits No. 24 Memphis on Saturday, has won seven straight after falling to Portland 82-73 last month. The Pilots dropped to 13-11 and 5-7, but not before pushing the Bulldogs to the closing seconds. Portland was attempting to become the first WCC team to sweep Gonzaga since San Diego in 1997.
The Bulldogs poured in seven 3s in the first half and Angel Nunez and Drew Barham sparked a big effort from the bench as Gonzaga built a 35-13 lead. Reserves scored 19 of Gonzaga’s first 27 points.
GU led 40-23 at half, but the Pilots charged back, despite top two scorers Kevin Bailey and Thomas van der Mars missing extended time with foul trouble.
“We played really good in the first 17 minutes and pretty poorly in the first 15 minutes of the second half,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said. “But hey, any time you do that in league and get a win that’s a really good thing. We don’t have the margin for error that we’ve had in the past. If we let our guard down any one of these teams can beat us, no matter where the game is.”
Gonzaga Prep grad Ryan Nicholas scored seven points late in the first half and added six straight in the second half as the Pilots closed within 45-43.
“Especially after getting them at our place, it made us think anything is possible,” said Nicholas, who finished with 15 points and 15 rebounds. “I thought they outplayed us in the first half and when we came back in the second half, obviously I was thinking, ‘This is the one.’ And it almost was.”
Portland pulled even at 51 on Bobby Sharp’s 3-pointer and took a 56-52 lead with 5:30 remaining. Dower scored the next six points to put the Zags in front 58-56.
Stockton hit a pair of free throws and a clutch 3-pointer to give the Zags a 63-58 advantage.
“It (3-point shot) has felt really good these last six games, I’ve just been having a lot of in-and-outs,” said Stockton, who entered the game at 21.6 percent but buried 3 of 4 against the Pilots. “I hope they play off me. I want to shoot those and I feel confident with them.”
Van der Mars sandwiched two buckets around a Pangos 3 as Gonzaga led 66-60. Stockton added one free throw and Pangos hit four straight in the final 47 seconds to seal the victory.
Gonzaga had struggled at the free-throw line before making 9 of its last 10.
GU’s offense, hovering around 60 percent from the field, started to slip in the closing minutes of the first half. It scored just five points in the first eight-plus minutes of the second half. The Zags missed all six of their 3-point attempts before Stockton and Pangos connected in the final few minutes.
“They climbed up into us and we didn’t handle that very well,” Few said. “They found a little bit of success going inside against our smaller lineup. They have a nice team, they have some athletes and some bigs that can score.
“Their bigs did a much better job of posting deep and scoring the ball better than ours did, plain and simple. We have to be better than that.”
Nunez, Pangos and Stockton all finished with 13 points. Dower chipped in 10. Portland’s Bailey had 13 points in 22 minutes and Bryce Pressley added 11.