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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga takes on Portland, probably needing sweep at WCC tournament to extend NCAA streak to 18

Domantas Sabonis fought his way toward 28 points and 17 rebounds when Gonzaga beat Portland at home on Jan. 9. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Domantas Sabonis fought his way toward 28 points and 17 rebounds when Gonzaga beat Portland at home on Jan. 9. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

LAS VEGAS – The streak is a source of pride, consistency and national standing. Gonzaga has been to 17 straight NCAA Tournaments, tied for the fourth-longest active streak and tied for the sixth-longest in tournament history.

It will probably take three consecutive wins in the West Coast Conference tournament to make it 18.

Bracket gurus are debating GU’s credentials on various media platforms, but one thing is clear: The Zags (23-7) reside on the bubble for the first time since 2011.

That season, Gonzaga rallied from a tie for fourth midway through the conference season to share the regular-season crown with Saint Mary’s. The Zags defeated the Gaels in the WCC tournament championship to secure another NCAA trip.

“Whether it’s pressure to be a No. 1 seed or get a high seed or whatever, I think there’s probably pressure on everybody this time of year,” coach Mark Few said. “It’s just the way it is. It’s March.”

Second-seeded Gonzaga opens against No. 7 Portland in the quarterfinals Saturday at 9 p.m. at Orleans Arena. The Zags won the first meeting 85-74 with Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis combining for 60 points. GU rolled in the rematch with five players reaching double figures in a 26-point road rout.

The players are aware of the streak but don’t make it a topic of discussion.

“It’s in the back of our minds,” senior guard Eric McClellan said, “but that’s not our focus.”

The Pilots (12-19) limp in with four losses in five games and veteran coach Eric Reveno perched on the hot seat. All-WCC guard Alec Wintering had another solid season (18.4 points, five assists) and wings Bryce Pressley (14.6 points, 62 3-pointers) and D’Marques Tyson (10.3 points, 84 3s) provide firepower.

Undersized small forward Jarrel Marshall poured in a career-high 25 points against the Zags in the last meeting.

Portland ranks 18th nationally in 3-pointers made (282) and 17th in attempts (764), 147 more than Gonzaga. The Zags are first nationally in 3-point percentage defense (28.5) and have held 11 straight opponents under 70 points.

If there are no first-round upsets, Gonzaga would face No. 3 BYU in Monday’s semifinals. Saint Mary’s claimed the top seed with a regular-season sweep over the Zags, who earned a share of the title by knocking off BYU last Saturday in Provo.

“We’ve been beaten twice by Saint Mary’s, once by BYU. Saint Mary’s has been beaten twice by Pepperdine, BYU has been beaten by some other clubs,” Few said. “I think there are teams that feel they have a pretty good chance, which they do.”

The Zags have reached 18 straight title games. Few’s teams are 28-4 in the tourney in his 16 seasons.

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