Gonzaga continues its tour of the WCC’s three last-place programs against visiting Portland on Thursday.
The 15th-ranked Zags (14-3), fresh from a road sweep over Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount, have breezed to a 4-0 WCC start by an average margin of nearly 33 points. The Waves, Lions and Pilots share last with 0-4 conference records.
The Pilots (6-11) were thumped by BYU and San Francisco by a combined 47 points on the WCC’s opening weekend, but they responded last week to push San Diego and Santa Clara to the final horn.
Portland scored the first basket in overtime but was shut out the rest of the way in an 81-74 loss to San Diego. The Pilots had a rash of late turnovers in a 70-68 setback at Santa Clara, which is 3-1, the ‘1’ being a 49-point loss to the Zags.
Portland made heavy revisions to its roster after going 2-16 and finishing last in the WCC in coach Terry Porter’s first season. The former Portland Trail Blazers star added a talented crew of newcomers that was nationally ranked by one recruiting service, but the team is short on collegiate experience.
Portland has one of the nation’s youngest rosters with eight freshmen and two sophomores, including J.C. transfer Josh McSwiggan, a 6-foot-7 wing who averages a team-high 13.4 points.
True freshmen JoJo Walker, Marcus Shaver Jr. and Tahirou Diabate are starters. Walker (9.3 points, team-high 47 assists) handles point guard. Shooting guard Shaver and wing Franklin Porter, Terry’s son and a transfer from Saint Mary’s who sat out last season, are second in scoring at 11.2 points.
Senior Philipp Hartwich, a 7-2 center from Germany, is the fifth starter. Porter’s son Malcolm, a redshirt freshman, plays 18 minutes per game as a reserve guard.
From the small world department, the 6-9 Diabate played high school basketball in Japan and has competed against Gonzaga sophomore forward Rui Hachimura in several tournaments.
Diabate is a native of Mali but moved to Japan in 2014 to concentrate on basketball and education. He had his first double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds against Santa Clara.
Portland redshirt freshman forward Hugh Hogland has dual citizenship and is a potential candidate for Japanese national teams. Hachimura is a prominent player in Japan’s national program.
Three of the Pilots’ wins are against non-Division I foes. They’ve had issues on defense and on the boards, but they are a strong 3-point shooting team with McSwiggan (47.8 percent, No. 1), D’Marques Tyson (42.9, No. 6), Franklin Porter (40.7, No. 10) and Walker (39.6, No. 12) ranking among the WCC leaders.
Gonzaga’s Josh Perkins is second in conference in 3-point percentage (45.6) and first in 3-pointers made (52). McSwiggan is second with 44.
The Zags have won the last eight in the series. They’re 35-2 against the Pilots under coach Mark Few.
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