It has been a tale of two teams: Harris was hurt. Too many new faces. Too many turnovers. Poor passing on the offensive end. Confusion on the defensive end. A schedule as brutal as any in memory. Early season loses to ranked teams. Three consecutive loses. And just when it seemed like things couldn't get any worse, Steven Gray went down with back spasms . . .
They say it gets darkest just before the light. The bottom fell out just before the end of the first half at Baylor. Gray was gone, Harris wasn't close to 100% and Sacre hadn't been all that effective in earlier games. There was no where left to go but up!
The Zags outlasted Baylor. It wasn't a pretty win but it was an impressive win. Indeed the next four games would see more of the same. With the exception of Lafayette, Gonzaga would be tested in different ways. Each and every time, the Zags would rise to the occasion.
We haven't seen a lot of the fast-break,high flying acrobatics provided by the Gonzaga teams of the past. Instead the Zags and providing a steady diet of methodical half court offense combined with an ever stiffening defensive effort.
Now that WCC play begins, it appears Gray is healthy, Harris is healthy and the Zags are playing some of the best team offense and team defense that we have seen for some time.
First up is Portland. Portland sports a 12-3 record following an impressive 88-79 win at home against Utah! Portland returns a front line that includes three Seniors: Luke Sikma (6'8" 235); Kramer Knutson (6'9" 220) and Jasonn Hannibal (6'10" 270). This veteran inside presence combines with the outside shooting of Nemania Mitrovic and Jared Stohl to produce a very formidable inside-out offensive threat. Four different players have garnered player of the week honors for the Pilots. Mitrovic, Sikma, Stohl, and Freshman Tim Douglas have put up big numbers and provide coach Reveno with a versatile group of scorers.
Next to Gonzaga, this might be the best team in the WCC. Portland's strength of schedule is 72nd nationally and Portland's RPI comes in at #38 (0.5991). Portland will be playing on their home floor. I don't think the Pilots can match Gonzagas athleticism but they certainly have a talented, fundamentally sound, well coached team. Gonzaga hasn't run much this year and if that trend continues, it may play into the hands of the Pilots. If the Hoff is sitting on the sidelines with his ankle injury, the Pilots may well be the better outside shooting team.
Where Portland is concerned, this might well be the biggest game on their schedule! I know all the cliches about getting everyone's best shot -- don't expect anything less from Portland on Saturday! The Zags are going to have to grind this one out in a very hostile environment.
This is a big game! A very big game! Winning this one may take everything we've got!