Ugh. This game. Normally, this is a game I look forward to having a beer with some friends, chatting about life and watching Gonzaga coast to another 20-point win over the hapless Portland Pilots. Such is the life of complacency I guess.
Portland changed the narrative on Jan. 9, 2014. The final score read Portland 82, Gonzaga 73, but that score is much closer than the game ever was. The Portland Pilots came out ready to play, and the Gonzaga Bulldogs handed the game over on their hands and knees. So congratulations to the students of the University of Portland, who borderline witnessed history that night. Now you will feel our wrath.
Tip-off is at 8 p.m. PT on KHQ/ROOT Sports.
Meet the opponent
Portland Pilots (13-10), Kenpom #108, RPI #156
The Pilots are honestly having a season for the ages. Not only did they defeat Gonzaga for the first time in ages, but they knocked off BYU in a triple overtime thriller that will probably be the best game of the conference this year. Then they remembered they were Portland again, suffering losses to San Diego and San Francisco before righting the ship against Santa Clara.
Thomas van der Mars was huge in the game against Santa Clara, scoring 28 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. He also hit all 10 of his free throws as the Pilots went 24-of-28 from the line as a team. Portland's offense, which isn't always the prettiest thing to watch, is based around hustle. They are third in the conference in points per game, lead the conference in assists and are second in the conference in offensive rebounds.
In the game earlier this season, it wasn't a victory where everything necessarily went right for Portland as it was the Bulldogs looked like they couldn't give any less shits about the outcome of the game. Five players scored in double figures for the Pilots and the team shot 51 percent from the floor. I don't anticipate this happening again.
What to watch out for
I'm honestly interested in the fire that Mark Few will light under the team's collective ass for this game. The worst part about watching the Gonzaga/Portland game earlier this season was that it was pretty apparent Gonzaga was going to lose just by watching their body language. Once you came to that conclusion, you had to watch it -- a slow, slow trainwreck taking 40 minutes to finish. The Zags are riding a six-game win streak, but that win streak belies the fact that two of those wins weren't pretty at all.
A return home will hopefully mean a return to form for Kevin Pangos. Pangos hasn't necessarily been atrocious his past two games as he just hasn't been visible. Granted, combining for 13 points off of 3-of-16 shooting isn't great, but he notched a few steals and didn't turn the ball over. So that counts for something at least. This has corresponded with the return Gary Bell, who is establishing himself as the better player in the back court. On the California trip, Bell averaged 14 points off 50 percent shooting. He also averaged more minutes than Pangos in those two games.
I don't have the faith in this Gonzaga team to say the game isn't going to be close. The wins over Santa Clara left me with post-game jitters and the win over San Diego was just as bad -- and that one was at home! Portland is playing with nothing to lose right now, and the Bulldogs have plenty to lose with another loss to the Pilots. This game could very well end up being close, or it could end up being a 20-point blowout. Either way, I'm banking on a Portland loss tonight or else I'm setting my Gonzaga sweatshirt on fire, possibly while I'm still wearing it.