Kevin Pangos and Przemek Karnowski carried Gonzaga to the finish line, combining to score 32 of the team's last 35 points in an 87-75 win over Portland on Saturday.
My unedited game story is below. Back tomorrow with a day-after post.
PORTLAND – For the longest time, it didn’t appear Gonzaga would need a closer Saturday as its lead swelled to 21 on 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski’s first career 3-pointer.
As it turned out, the Zags needed two closers – Karnowski, in his more traditional role of scoring and passing from inside the paint, and Kevin Pangos, draining 3-pointers, a runner and free throws.
The Bulldogs’ 21-point lead dissolved to five with 2 minutes left but Karnowski and Pangos carried them to the finish line for an 87-75 victory in front of a sell-out crowd of 4,852 – perhaps half GU fans – at the Chiles Center.
Of Gonzaga’s final 35 points over the final 15:30, Pangos scored 17 and Karnowski 15. Kyle Wiltjer, who had a tough outing in his hometown, scored the other three.
“Each game it’s been somebody different,” said Pangos, who finished with 21 points, sharing team-high honors with Karnowski. “Byron (Wesley) has done it in some games, or Kyle or GB (Gary Bell Jr.). Today it was me and Shem.
“I wanted to be really aggressive and I found some openings. I just didn’t want to lose.”
The Zags’ victory was similar to last week’s wins over BYU and San Diego. No. 7 Gonzaga led comfortably at one point – BYU by 16 in the first half, San Diego by 22 and Portland by 21 in the second – but couldn’t sustain it for 40 minutes.
Still, the Zags (14-1, 3-0 WCC) won their seventh straight game – and they’ve played just once at the McCarthey Athletic Center since Dec. 2.
“We’ve been on the road for like a month,” coach Mark Few said. “The Battle in Seattle is a plane ride and hang out in a hotel room. When you take that into effect, it’s pretty remarkable what we’ve been able to do. I told them I’m proud of them for the way we held up and now we get to play in front of our home crowd.
“But again, we need to do a better job of putting the game away.”
The Zags’ streak of fast starts continued but the player most responsible was different. GU, which led San Diego 12-3 and BYU 14-4 early on, raced in front 13-2 with 15:15 left. Wiltjer had lifted the Zags to those quick starts, but this time it was a balanced approach.
Wiltjer, who averages a team-high 17.1 points, didn’t score in the first half but Bell struck for 10, Wesley eight and Kyle Dranginis six as the Bulldogs took a 43-28 halftime lead. Gonzaga dominated the boards, 21-10, creating a 9-1 advantage in second-chance points.
The rebounding stat flipped in the second half and the Pilots mounted an improbable comeback after Karnowski’s improbable 3 midway through the second half. A Portland player had kicked the ball out of bounds, causing a reset of the shot clock from 2 seconds to 15. But when Karnowski gazed at the shot clock, it still showed 2.
“I didn’t see it (when they changed the time on the clock),” he said. “I just shot it and it went in.”
It was all Portland (10-5, 1-2) for the next 8:30. Point guard Alec Wintering and center Thomas van der Mars led a furious comeback with Wintering’s free throws trimming GU’s lead to 75-70. Pangos halted Portland’s momentum by hitting a jumper after a kick-out pass from Karnowski.
The guard returned the favor on the next play, feeding Karnowski for a dunk and he drew a foul. Karnowski made the free throw and Pangos went 6 of 6 at the line in the final 27.3 seconds.
“We’ve shown we can play great on the road and we’ve shown moments where the other team gets hot and we don’t play our best,” Pangos said. “But we got three (WCC) wins out of it so there’s not much more you can ask.”