University of Portland and Gonzaga University, the schools that have met in the championship game of the West Coast Conference Tournament the past two seasons, square off tonight in Martin Centre in a matchup that could play a huge role in determining this year’s regular-season champion.
The Pacific Northwest rivals tip off at 7:30 in a game regionally televised by Fox Sports Northwest. GU (12-8 overall, 5-3 in the WCC) hopes to hold on to its share of first place in the conference standings and Portland (9-11, 4-4) hopes to further tighten a race that already has only two games separating the league’s eight teams.
The two teams play each other again Saturday in Portland, and Gonzaga coach Dan Fitzgerald expects tight, intense battles. “Portland is good,” Fitzgerald said. “They’ll come in here and play very, very hard, because they know it’s a game they can win.
“But because of the injury to (Kweemada) King, their margin of error - like ours - is small.” King was UP’s leading scorer last season.
Fitzgerald said the key will be his team’s ability to cope with the Pilots’ quickness and defensive pressure. Also, he expects an interesting matchup inside, where his own Bakari Hendrix and Axel Dench will alternate defending Portland’s 6-foot-11 senior Greg Klosterman, who averages 15.5 points and 5.8 rebounds - both team highs.
Hendrix and freshman point guard Matt Santangelo have been playing well for GU, but senior guard Lorenzo Rollins continues to struggle with his shooting touch.
Rollins, averaging a team-high 16.1 points, scored 18 in last Saturday’s 77-75 road win over Loyola Marymount, but at 1 for 6 dropped his 3-point percentage against WCC opponents to 18.4 percent (7 of 38).
“There’s an argument that I should sit him down,” Fitzgerald said, “but I won’t do it to a senior. And the other side of it is that the kid’s trying. Still, if we are going to continue (winning), he’s going to have to come out of it.”
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