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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Thanksgiving after dark: Gonzaga trying to avoid trap in Phil Knight Legacy opener vs. Portland State

Nov. 23, 2022 Updated Wed., Nov. 23, 2022 at 4:22 p.m.

PORTLAND – Somewhere in the figurative basketball handbook, there’s a section devoted to “trap games.”

It’s essentially when a heavily favored team could get caught looking past an opponent that falls in between a series of marquee matchups.

In other words, No. 6 Gonzaga vs. Portland State, No. 260 in KenPom’s ratings. The Zags (3-1) are coming off games against Michigan State, Texas and Kentucky with potential clashes against No. 24 Purdue and No. 8 Duke later this week, should favorites prevail at the Phil Knight Legacy tournament.

The Zags’ mindset figures to be tested by a few other factors, including a Thanksgiving after dark tip at 9:30 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Coliseum and an opponent that’s a bit of an unknown with seven new Division I transfers and one junior college addition.

“It’s just great to get this one under our belt because there’s many, many more coming down the stretch,” GU coach Mark Few said after Sunday’s 88-72 win over Kentucky. “So we start with Portland State. It’s a scrappy bunch that just beat Oregon State. Then we’ll see what happens after that, but that tournament is loaded.”

To reach the “loaded” portion of the tournament, which commemorates Nike co-founder Phil Knight’s 85th birthday, Gonzaga must first deal with the Vikings, who are 2-2 after posting the first win over Oregon State in program history.

The teams haven’t met since Portland State upset the seventh-ranked Zags 77-70 in 2008 behind Jeremiah Dominguez’s 25 points. The game was nearly canceled due to a winter storm that forced PSU to bus to Seattle before arriving in Spokane about three hours before tip.

The Vikings, picked to finish seventh in Big Sky Conference preseason polls, are an interesting squad. Second-year coach Jase Coburn has some depth and uses it. Eleven Vikings played against Oregon State and Seattle.

Bench players have logged 341 minutes and outscored the starters 184-170, despite the first five playing 459 minutes. Reserves have made 51.1% from the field compared to the starting unit’s 38.2%.

Portland State tops the Big Sky in turnover margin (plus 6.5 per game). The Vikings use their depth to keep fresh bodies on the court and maintain steady defensive pressure.

“Our expectation is to play as hard as you can possibly play,” Coburn said. “It’s all linked together, right? Part of playing hard for us is you get exposed if you don’t. We’re high pressure both half and full court.

“We feel like we have a lot of guys that could start. One of the valuable things is, when we start subbing we know we’re not going to take a dip in scoring and rebounding.”

The Zags averaged 18.7 turnovers while going 2-1 versus Michigan State, Texas and Kentucky.

The transfer portal isn’t just used by top-50 programs restocking their roster. Portland State’s D-I transfers include leading scorer Jorell Saterfield (UTEP) and Cameron Parker (Montana), Bobby Harvey (IUPUI), Hunter Woods (Elon), Mikal Starks (Georgia), Isaiah Johnson (Oregon State) and a pair of former West Coast Conference players in Kendall Munson (Pepperdine) and Hayden Curtiss (Portland).

Starks and Curtiss are in their second seasons at PSU. Isiah Kirby, who played two years at Southeastern Louisiana before one season at Tallahassee CC, chips in 12.5 points off the bench.

“It’s been a lot of fun so far,” Coburn said. “It may be foreign for some, but for me in my career we’ve used (the portal) throughout my time.”

Coburn, 39, coached at the prep and junior college level before arriving at PSU as an assistant in 2013. He was promoted to head coach after Barret Peery took an assistant coaching position at Texas Tech.

Coburn’s introductory news conference caught the attention of national media after he mentioned he skips breakfast so he’s hungry at work and his car, a 2003 Chevy Tahoe, doesn’t have heat or air conditioning so he can practice “my mental toughness.”

Coburn said he gets asked about those remarks “only every day. It’s just my mentality. It’s important for me to be real and authentic.”

To that end, he still skips breakfast and still drives the Tahoe.

“Someone asked me how many miles it has,” Coburn said, “but the electronic thing is broken so I really don’t know.”

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