Former UCLA coach John Wooden liked to talk about how teams with ability might find short-term success but only teams with character could actually sustain excellence and win championships.
Last night, in their most convincing win of the season, the Zags proved they have both.
In the radio post-game show, GU assistant Leon Rice talked about the team's "lack of scrappiness and general toughness" over the past several games, attributes that Rice said allowed GU to compete with the likes of Michigan State earlier in the season. The Zags rediscovered that competitive edge against a talented Portland team, holding the Pilots to a pedestrian 35% from the field and 24% from behind the arc.
Passing lanes were clogged, shots were contested, opponents were blocked out, every loose basketball was tracked down by a determined Zag.
Consider these examples of GU intensity...all after the team had secured a double-digit lead:
Manny Arop outhustles an opponent at mid-court shortly before the first half ends, leading to a Zags' basket; Elias Harris lunges to deny a Portland pass in the early stages of the second half and finds Steven Gray for a resounding dunk; later in the second half, Matt Bouldin rotates on defense to knock away a sure Pilot layup; minutes later, Robert Sacre does the same thing; Portland's Luke Sikma looks like he is headed for an easy breakaway, only to have a sprinting Bol Kong dislodge the ball at the last second...the examples go on.
This team will be as good as its defense lets it be. If the Zags play with the sort of assertiveness they did against Portland, take high-percentage shots and share the ball, GU fans will be rewarded with some serious success in March.