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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

“We’re clearly not defending very well:” Defense tops Gonzaga’s to-do list against Portland

Jan. 27, 2023 Updated Fri., Jan. 27, 2023 at 7:04 p.m.

Gonzaga has had nearly a week to rest, recover and practice after an offensive-minded 99-90 win over Pacific.

The Pacific game underscored what has likely been at the top of Gonzaga’s practice itinerary this week. The Zags have yielded an average of 78 points, 47.3% field-goal shooting and 40.7% on 3-pointers in seven West Coast Conference games.

Six of the seven foes scored at least 74 points. Loyola Marymount was the one that didn’t reach the 70s, but the Lions upset Gonzaga 68-67 with solid defense and by hitting 47.4% of their shots, including nearly 37% on 3s, while patiently working the shot clock on most possessions.

So, about the practice plan this week for Saturday’s road game against Portland at the Chiles Center?

“Probably a lot of defense the next couple days,” Gonzaga senior forward Anton Watson said shortly after last Saturday’s victory over the Tigers, who exceeded their season average by 15 points.

“This is our last rest,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “We’ll be on quite a gauntlet with Thursday-Saturday (games the rest of conference play). We need to rest our minds and in some instances our bodies. We need to get back to defending better than we are.

“We’re clearly not defending very well.”

Asked for specifics, Few offered, “It’s everything.”

The Zags’ 115-75 rout over Portland two weeks ago and 111-88 blowout of Pepperdine in late December are GU’s only conference games that haven’t been decided in the closing minutes/seconds.

The Pilots (11-12, 3-5 WCC) have been inconsistent in conference, some of which can be attributed to injuries to top scorers Moses Wood and Tyler Robertson, but they’re capable on offense at full strength. The two have been in the lineup for the past two-plus weeks and contribute 29 points per game.

Portland scored 81, 83 and 77 while going 1-2 against then No. 1 North Carolina, Villanova and No. 12 Michigan State at the Phil Knight Invitational in November.

The Pilots, who average 76.9 points per game, scored 92, 88 and 91 in wins over San Francisco, San Diego and Pepperdine. They rank 17th nationally in free throws attempted (23.3), 16th in free throws made (16.9) and 21st in 3-pointers made per game (9.3).

“I’ve done this thing long enough where we’ve won by 30 at home and just been in absolutely a barnburner down there,” said Few, whose teams are 42-2 vs. Portland. “I expect it to be very similar to (Pacific), very similar style where they spread you out and all shoot 3s.

“There’ll be a full house, they’ll be amped up. It’ll be a much stiffer challenge than we saw in Spokane.”

Particularly if the Pilots under second-year coach Shantay Legans can come up with a defensive scheme to slow down GU’s offense. The Zags hit 18 3-pointers in a 104-72 rout over Portland last season and hit 17 3s in the rout two weeks ago.

The Pilots have attempted to pack the paint against forward Drew Timme, but he still averaged 17 points and five teammates reached double figures in each of the last two games.

Legans will likely try a different scheme against the 14th-ranked Zags (17-4, 6-1), who have averaged 89.3 points in WCC games. GU trails Saint Mary’s (18-4, 7-0) by one game. The Gaels visit BYU in Provo, Utah, on Saturday night.

“They’re definitely going to be hungry,” Watson said of the Pilots. “They’ve got a lot of 3-point shooters, too, kind of like (Pacific), so we’ve just got to be locked in.”

Gonzaga has won 15 in a row in the series and seven straight, all by double digits, in Portland, but trailed 42-35 in 2020 at the Chiles Center before outscoring the Pilots 50-30 in the second half.

The Pilots have dropped 20 consecutive games to AP-ranked opponents since edging No. 18 Gonzaga 82-73 in 2014. They nearly snapped the streak in narrow losses to North Carolina and Michigan State.

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