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Analysis: Gonzaga works offensive glass to roll past Portland, 89-66

UPDATED: Sat., Jan. 19, 2019, 11:31 p.m.

Gonzaga forward Brandon Clarke shoots over Portland guard Josh McSwiggan during the first half  Saturday in Portland. (Craig Mitchelldyer / AP)
Gonzaga forward Brandon Clarke shoots over Portland guard Josh McSwiggan during the first half Saturday in Portland. (Craig Mitchelldyer / AP)

PORTLAND – There are all kinds of ways to score in a basketball game.

Gonzaga went with its tried-and-true – its advantage inside – and mixed in a couple of secondary sources with putbacks and points off turnovers.

The Zags didn’t have their “A” game on offense or defense, but they were resourceful in a businesslike 89-66 victory viewed by a packed house of 4,852, roughly a 50-50 split between Gonzaga and Portland fans, inside the Chiles Center.

No. 5 Gonzaga (18-2, 5-0 WCC) should climb up a spot or two when the new Associated Press poll is released Monday. No. 1 Duke lost to Syracuse before bouncing back to hand No. 4 Virginia its first setback. No. 2 Michigan also suffered its first loss.

The missed shot was often the Zags’ best friend, as they repeatedly collected offensive rebounds against Portland’s game-long zone defense and inexperienced frontcourt.

“Seeing 40 minutes of zone is kind of unusual,” said sophomore wing Zach Norvell Jr., who had a tough shooting night but still scored 14 points, one of seven Zags in double figures. “For us to still be able to score and be efficient is huge. It took us a long time to get a rhythm (until) those guys made their presence known on the offensive glass.”

At one point in the first half, Gonzaga was pitching a shutout in paint points (13-0) and points off turnovers (8-0). That’s the main reason why the Pilots’ offense functioned fairly well at times, but they kept losing ground on the scoreboard.

It was also enough to mask some of Gonzaga’s inattentive defensive stretches and reliance on the 3-point shot. The Zags hoisted a season-high 31 3s, making 11.

“I think we were a little bit too concerned with our offense and not concerned enough with our defense,” coach Mark Few said. “When we didn’t settle for quick 3s, we were extremely efficient. That’s what we talked about (in the locker room), especially in the context where we’ve missed three or four in a row.”

Portland (7-13, 0-5) opened in a zone and stayed with it until the final buzzer. Gonzaga found open looks, often from beyond the arc, but didn’t shoot particularly well.

The Zags had success when they worked the ball through the high post for kick-outs or high-low feeds. Killian Tillie, Josh Perkins and Norvell combined for 10 assists as the Zags settled for a 41-26 halftime lead after leading by as many as 18.

“When we put the ball in the high post and were patient with the ball, we got good shots every time,” said Tillie, who finished with 10 points and six assists despite another bout with foul trouble. “Sometimes we took some quick shots, and I don’t think it was good for us.”

It wasn’t, but the Zags often retrieved those misses. They finished with 15 offensive boards for a 23-1 edge in second-chance points. Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke combined for nine offensive rebounds.

“And we needed ’em,” Few said. “That’s what you need to do if a team is going to zone or junk it up like Portland’s done.”

The Pilots hung around most of the second half, generally keeping the deficit between 12 and 18 points.

Portland cobbled together offense behind Marcus Shaver Jr.’s 18 points, JoJo Walker’s 11 and a combined 18 points from bigs Jacob Tryon and Hugh Hogland, but they never mounted a charge that put a scare into the Zags.

Late in the second half, Portland was shooting 47.4 percent to Gonzaga’s 46.7 and the Pilots still trailed 72-54 – again reflecting the Zags’ dominance on the glass and points off turnovers (18-5).

“I feel like the zone invites 3s. That’s fine, we have shooters,” said Clarke, who had 11 points and six rebounds. “But that’s also why the boards were open.”

Geno Crandall scored all 10 of his points in the second half, including a 3-pointer following a Corey Kispert rebound, a three-point play and a scoop layup following Pilots’ baskets.

Hachimura had team highs with 17 points and nine rebounds. Perkins added 11 points and seven assists. The Zags had 26 assists on 33 field goals.

Kispert added 11 points and five rebounds before fouling out. Kispert, Clarke and Tillie were in foul trouble for most of the second half.

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