--Silas Melson’s emergence continued in a big way last night as the sophomore guard put up 13 points, four assists, two rebounds and one steal in 29 minutes. He scored five points in a 14-3 run that hiked Gonzaga’s lead to 31-19. He added six points in the second half as Gonzaga pulled away from the Pilots.
Melson’s defense -- he was one of several primary defenders on Portland standout Alec Wintering -- might have been better than his offense.
“Silas has really been growing his role and really coming on,” coach Mark Few said. “He’s becoming a Gary Bell-type defender for us (with) his attention to detail and ability to lock down on the other team’s best guy. His scoring is coming back around after struggling earlier in the year. Having him as our X-factor is making a big, big difference.”
Melson is averaging just 5.4 points on the season but he’s contributed 11.2 points over the last four games. In the 14 games prior to that, Melson scored just 42 points. He has 45 points in the last four.
--Eric McClellan said Wintering “is probably the hardest guard for me,” noting the 5-11 junior’s speed, smarts, driving and shooting capability, and craftiness operating off ball screens.
Wintering had 10 points in the first half but was unsuccessful on 3s (0 of 2) and had three turnovers vs. one assist. He only scored one point in the second half. He finished with two assists and five turnovers.
“He’s a really small guard; if you touch him and he falls they’re going to call a foul,” Melson said. “He’s a really hard guard and we have another one (SMU’s Nic Moore) coming up. He’s really good so we have stay locked in.”
--Melson and Kyle Wiltjer had plenty of supporters among the packed crowd, which was roughly 35 percent Zag followers.
“During intros you could hear the fan support,” Wiltjer said. “I think I rounded up 20 tickets. Not enough, but a lot of people I turned down last year knew I couldn’t get them tickets this year so they got their own.”
Domantas Sabonis, who was born in Portland and lived his first six years in the Rose City when father Arvydas was playing for the Trail Blazers, met with a large number of Lithuanians, including a couple fans clad in the country’s green and yellow colors that found their way to the interview area and exchanged pleasantries with Few.
“Welcome,” a smiling Few said. “We accept all Lithuanian help and support.”
One fan told Few that they were also supporting Kyle Dranginis “who is half Lithuanian.”
“Unfortunately (Domas) already plays for you guys so we can’t get him on our Olympic team,” Few said to the fan. “I know one man who would be pretty upset with that, the director of Lithuanian basketball (Arvydas) is pretty close to (Domas).”
Sabonis was grateful for the cheering section.
“They told me there’s a big community of Lithuanians coming,” Sabonis said. “I think most of them are probably fans of my father.”
STATS OF NOTE
--Kyle Dranginis (4 of 5), Josh Perkins (2 of 2) and McClellan (2 of 2) were a combined 8 of 9 from distance.
--GU’s 22 assists trailed only the season-high 23 vs. Mount St. Mary’s. The Zags committed just eight turnovers.
--Perkins had one of his best floor games, distributing a season-best nine assists against two turnovers.
--Sabonis only missed three shots (two FGs and one FT) en route to 17 points.
--Bryan Alberts was 0 of 4 on 3s, dropping him to 1 of 13 from 3 in road games. He’s 21 of 35 at the MAC, 1 of 4 at neutral sites.
McClellan: “We’re playing really good basketball. Guys are clicking at the right time and we’re just playing together. I just think our team-ness is being overshadowed by our success but it’s something that shouldn’t go unnoticed.”
Sabonis on SMU: “It’s a really big game, we have to prove to everyone we’re here and we’re ready. We’re going to come out and fight for this game.”
McClellan on Perkins: “Perk led us, almost a double-double, great floor balance, leading the team.”