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Gonzaga maintaining focus during ‘special season’

Gonzaga players celebrate their win over Iowa State at the end of an NCAA college basketball game at the Advocare Invitational tournament in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016. (Willie J. Allen Jr. / Associated Press)
Gonzaga players celebrate their win over Iowa State at the end of an NCAA college basketball game at the Advocare Invitational tournament in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016. (Willie J. Allen Jr. / Associated Press)

PORTLAND – The Gonzaga Bulldogs sense they’re in the midst of a something special so they’re planning accordingly.

“We know that we’re kind of on a special ride a little bit,” junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss said. “I’m reminding our guys before every game, ‘Hey, this is a special season, let’s not take any game or any opponent for granted.’

“Just try to play as hard as we can every night and give ourselves the best chance to win.”

No. 5 Gonzaga arrived at the halfway point of the regular season 15-0 – joining Baylor as the only unbeatens left – after handling San Francisco 95-80 on Thursday.

The Zags will probably be favored in their next 15 games with the possible exception of a February road date against Saint Mary’s. They’re favored by 16 1/2 points Saturday against Portland (9-6, 2-1 WCC), which was crushed by Santa Clara 70-42 on Thursday.

Before Thursday’s clunker, the Pilots had put together a promising WCC start with wins over Pacific and Pepperdine. The Pilots were held to a single field goal in the last 16 minutes of regulation.

It was a rare off night for senior point guard Alec Wintering. The WCC leader in points (21 per game) managed just 8 points on 2-of-9 shooting. Wintering has scored at least 13 points in eachof Portland’s first 14 games. He also committed seven turnovers.

Running mate Jazz Johnson scored 19 points, his 15th consecutive outing in double digits.

“I think Wintering is really something,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few, who is 33-2 against the Pilots, said. “He could play anywhere in the country, and they’ve got Jazz going this year. He’s playing with great freedom and they surround them with a bunch of good shooters.

“That’s hard because Wintering can literally penetrate on anybody.”

Williams-Goss and Wintering crossed paths twice in preseason scrimmages during Williams-Goss’s two seasons at Washington.

“Alec is a great player,” said Williams-Goss, who scored a career-high 36 points against USF. “I know him off the floor well, really good guy. It’s good for our conference when you have high-level players.”

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