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Analysis: Gonzaga grounds Pilots for second time in two weeks

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 25, 2018, 11:21 p.m.

PORTLAND – The rematch was pretty much a replay.

Gonzaga roughed up Portland for the second time in two weeks. It wasn’t quite the 46-point blowout of two weeks ago in Spokane, but the 15th-ranked Zags were in command from the opening tip in a 95-79 victory Thursday at the Chiles Center.

Many of the same things that unfolded at the McCarthey Athletic Center – easy buckets, inside-outside scoring, offensive rebounding prowess – were on display again as the Zags led by double digits for the final 32-plus minutes.

Gonzaga (18-4, 8-1 WCC) reached the halfway point of the conference season one game behind Saint Mary’s (20-2, 9-0), which defeated BYU 75-62.

Portland tried multiple defenses, man-to-man and several zones, but Gonzaga, other than some stretches with silly turnovers, had quality looks on nearly every possession.

Sophomore forward Killian Tillie worked over Portland freshman forward Tahirou Diabate and smaller wings Josh McSwiggan and D’Marques Tyson. When the Pilots played zone, Tillie found open space, hitting a 3-pointer and a couple of floaters.

“They did a lot of different things, a box-and-one with a guy (face-guarding) Josh (Perkins) so it was weird to attack,” Tillie said. “But we were prepared and we had a couple plays for it.”

Tillie made 11 of 14 field goals and finished with 27 points, matching his career high set against IUPUI.

“He can really do some things,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “I just told him in the locker room he needs to follow it up. He has to back it up with some consistent play, because he has not done that this year. Fantastic effort tonight, great performance.”

Freshman wing Corey Kispert, scoreless in GU’s last two games, broke loose for a season-high 23 points, his first time in double figures since scoring 10 points against Santa Clara on Dec. 30.

“It was really good for Kispert to get going,” Few said. “I thought our starters were very good and Corey really made some plays and was aggressive. That’s a really good thing for us. It gives us another weapon.”

The Zags scored three straight buckets early in the second half on easy lob passes – Tillie to Johnathan Williams, Silas Melson to Tillie and Zach Norvell Jr. to Tillie – as their lead reached 20.

When the Zags weren’t making shots, they usually collected the rebound and capitalized. Gonzaga grabbed 15 offensive boards and had a 19-3 edge in second-chance points.

Portland native Melson, in his final appearance as a Zag in his hometown, finished with three 3-pointers, 14 points and six assists. His drive and dunk with 5:15 remaining was greeted by a loud ovation from Zags fans that made up a sizable portion of the 4,557 in attendance.

“I had a bunch of people here,” Melson said. “It was fun just playing in front of hometown fans one more time. Coming out victorious makes it even more fun. Great four years and (great) coming back here and playing.”

Perkins had three 3s in the first half and added 11 points.

The Pilots (8-14, 2-7) heated up on offense in the second half, shooting 48 percent and hitting 22 free throws, but kept losing ground on the scoreboard. Marcus Shaver Jr. scored a team-high 16 points.

Gonzaga led 46-30 at half and the margin could have easily been 20-plus points. GU threatened to pull away several times but stopped itself with a turnover or ill-timed foul.

The Zags twice bailed out Portland by fouling as the shot-clock was winding down. On another occasion, Rui Hachimura fouled Tyson on a 3-pointer.

Still, the Zags gave up few uncontested shots in the first half. The Pilots made just 3 of 12 early on as the Zags built a nine-point lead. JoJo Walker and Shaver blew by defenders for layups late in the half, forcing Few to call a timeout, but those were exceptions. More often, Portland drove inside and forced shots that were well off target.

The Pilots didn’t have much luck on the perimeter. Josh McSwiggan hit from 3 on their second possession, but they went dry beyond the arc until Tyson’s 3-pointer in the final minute.

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