There was some legitimate cause for concern when Saint Mary's and Pacific rolled into town. We all know about the ongoing injuries of Dower, Pangos and Bell at this point, but then the nasty flu bug reared its ugly head. David Stockton had the plague, and yet, it didn't matter.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs completely rolled over the Gaels and the Tigers in a way that few were expecting. Ever since adversity hit the team, the Bulldogs have been playing with the chip on the shoulder they seemed to be missing at the start of the season. Tales that these Bulldogs lacked the moxie of previous teams ran rampant through the comments section like an uncontrollable weed. Now, the Bulldogs have moxie, and then some.
Of course, the Bulldogs also had the luxury of opening the conference with four straight games at home. There isn't a better time to be injured than to be snowed into the McCarthy Athletic Center. Dower should be good to go into the starting lineup after tallying 20 minutes against Pacific. Stockton should be feeling a bit better. Not everything is all sunshine and roses in Gonzaga-land. According to Jim Meehan with the Spokesman Review, Przemek Karnowski has taken the flu that Stockton so desperately wanted rid of.
Gonzaga's Przemek Karnowski (sick) missed practice Monday and Tuesday— Jim Meehan (@SRJimm) January 7, 2014
GU's Przemek Karnowski, who missed the last two days of practice with an illness, returned to practice today.— Jim Meehan (@SRJimm) January 9, 2014
Meet the opponent
Portland Pilots (9-7), Kenpom #134, RPI #171
The Portland Pilots are the poster child for Gonzaga's dominance in the WCC over the past 15 years. Portland has lost to Gonzaga 20 straight times, and it hasn't even been close as of late -- losing the last four games by an average of 25.5 points. In fact, you have to head back to the times of Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey collaborations to see when Gonzaga last loss on the road at Portland, a 67-66 loss on Jan. 27, 1996.
The Pilots are a pretty balanced team this year, led by the combo of Kevin Bailey and Ryan Nicholas. Don't let the record beguile you, the Pilots haven't really gotten blown out at all this year. Minus their loss at Michigan State, the Pilots have lost by an average of six points. Against Michigan State, massive props go to Portland's way. Despite losing by 15 points, they stayed pace with the No. 1 team in the nation for the better part of 20 minutes, only trailing four at half.
Portland is a dangerous team when they get going. They huck up a shot attempts, and if they could just get more to go in they would be a dangerous team. They are 17th in the nation in field goals made and 13th in the nation in field goals attempted. Kevin Bailey leads the team with 16.6 points per game, but the most interesting person to watch will be Nicholas. Nicholas is one of the more underrated players in the conference. He averages 13 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, translated over forty minutes that would be 18.5 points and 13.2 rebounds. One of the most important parts about his rebound game is his hustle. Nicholas is exactly the kind of player that burns Gonzaga this year -- and undersized forward that hustles harder for rebounds than Karnowski and Dower. Nearly one-third of all of Nicholas rebounds are offensive rebounds.
What to watch out for
The Pilots like to play a fast paced game, and that will work out perfectly for Gonzaga. The difference between the Bulldogs and the Pilots is that one team is a lot better at watching the ball go through the hoop. Although the Pilots charge forward on offense, it flashes back to the other side of the coin. As many shots as the Pilots take, their opponents launch nearly just as many against them. Portland doesn't have the defense or athleticism required to compete for forty minutes with a lot of the better teams.
We've gone on on how the Bulldogs have faced up to adversity quite nicely with the rash of injuries that swept the team and there is no reason to think it won't be any different tonight. If Karnowski has been dealing with the flu for much of the week, I wouldn't expect to see much aggressive activity from him. Drew Barham, Angel Nunez and Kyle Dranginis will need to make sure their energy is ready to match Portland's on the offensive boards.
There isn't much of a reason to think this game should be trouble, outside of the fact that it is a road game in the conference. But Portland has faced off against the best in the nation this year and hung around for longer than anyone thought they had any business doing. Right now, the Zags are flowing on an offensive level I don't think Portland will be able to keep up with for the entire game, but I wouldn't be surprised if this one is close at halftime.
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