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Zags kick off WCC play with big road win in Portland

There's no doubt that Gonzaga is currently in the midst of their toughest stretch of games.  After coming off wins against Oklahoma and Illinois, the beginning of the West Coast Conference slate was unusually demanding.  Tonight was the first test and it came against the team most people were expecting to give the Zags the most trouble.  The Portland Pilots were picked to finish a close second behind Gonzaga in the preseason polls.  What made this game even more demanding, was that it took place in the purple-dominated Chiles Center.  The crowd sparked their Pilots throughout the evening but the game never got away from Gonzaga as they pulled out a close three-point win, 81-78.

The Zags were once again paced by their dynamic duo, Elias Harris and Matt Bouldin.  The smooth German forward made seven of his eleven attempted shots and pulled down seven boards to go along.  He finished with 18 points and is currently in a zone on the offensive side as he keeps getting off to hot starts.  Bouldin started the game off with a flurry of beautiful assists that brought us back to his freshman year when he showed glimpses of becoming a great distributor.  While his shot was a bit off (4-12), he got to the line 11 times and hit 10 of them.  All in all, he finished with 20 points, 9 assists, and three boards.

Gonzaga's biggest lead of the game was a 13 point advantage and their were a number of times when you just felt they were one play away from making this game a rout.  Whenever the lead got up to a dangerous level for Portland, they went on a mini-run of their own or knocked down a big three.  What may have been the saving grace for the Zags was their outstanding bench play.  Kelly Olynyk was simply fabulous.  The lengthy freshman forward shot 4-6 from the field finished with 13 points and pulled down seven rebounds.  Even better, he didn't turn the ball over once.  Right on Olynyk's heels was fellow Canadian Bol Kong who is becoming such a threat on offense that teams must account for him at all times.  You can also throw out the "poor defense" card on Bol.  He really impressed tonight.  In total, Kong was also 4-6 from the floor and ended up with 12 points.  He hit some big shots and except for some late missed free throws, he basically delivered a perfect game.

The rest of the bench was stellar in limited action as well.  G.J. saw some nice time, Manny did his thing, and Will and Grant were also nice in their few minutes.  The only glaring weakness was Steven Gray forgetting the time of the game and poor free throw shooting.  The Zags once again shot sub-70% from the line (19-29) and it could have cost them late.  Elias and Bol can't miss six combined free throws if this team is going to go places.  Steven Gray, my best buddy, had an awfully terrible game.  He's one of those guys that you can predict how he is going to play in the first few minutes.  Thank god he got in foul trouble early or I'm convinced he would have kicked the ball around the court.  He shot 1-8 from the floor, had two fouls in the first couple minutes, and made a number of mistakes that just snowballed into a worthless performance.  I go back and forth on Steven but for as calm, cool, and collected as he appears, I'd wager that he gets the most rattled of any player on this team if he doesn't start well.  He completely shuts it down (but still shoots 8 time, five from three) if he starts poorly.  Looking at his individual stat line, I thank our lucky stars that Elias is so good because I didn't think we could survive that kind of Steven performance before the year started.

EDZ was sitting in press row tonight covering the game for the blog and will have quotes, in-game thoughts and much more for you.  Zags are 1-0 in the West Coast Conference with a huge showdown at St. Mary's on Thursday.