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Huge stretch set to begin: Zags host Pilots

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When I predicted Gonzaga to go 13-1 and in WCC play, I can promise you that I didn't think that the one loss would be at the hands of the USF Dons. However, while many Gonzaga fans expressed either panic or disappointment regarding the loss at San Francisco, I believe that this was the best thing to ever happen to this team. It started to become clear that this group wasn't playing for a full 40 minutes every game, and had started to fall into the lull that sometimes occurs during WCC play.

Now that this team has experienced defeat to an opponent they should have defeated (quick note: I believe this is the first loss this season that can be considered surprising or appalling), I firmly believe you will see this Gonzaga team play with a chip on its shoulder throughout February and into March. Its starting to get to that point in the season where each loss can severely impact the seeding and chance to win a National Championship. Despite the setback, I still believe this Gonzaga team has Final 4 qualities, and I think that the team now has the motivation and understanding of what it will take to not only get through the rest of the regular season, but also the mental fortitude that will need to be on display on in the Opening round and Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament.

The last time that Portland and Gonzaga met, a late rally by the Pilots nearly turned a comfortable Gonzaga win into a nail-biting overtime finish. However, as we learned this past week with road games at Santa Clara and USF, picking up a road victory is all that matters, no matter what the fashion of the victory may be. While Portland has played well throughout WCC play, the Pilots know that they need to knock off either Gonzaga or St. Mary's to have an opportunity to win this conference. 

What will make the task even more difficult for the Pilots is the injury to Nik Raivio. Raivio, who has been the leading scorer for this team the past two seasons, is battling a foot/ankle injury that may just keep him out the rest of the season. With Raivio out of the equation, the Zags can put even more defensive focus on slowing down the back court of Jared Stohl and T.J. Campbell. If the combination of Meech, Steven Gray, Mangisto Arop, and Grant Gibbs can be effective and limit the dribble penetration and open looks from the perimeter, Gonzaga should be on its way to a comfortable victory.

I know this must get old seeing this written for every game preview, but I really believe that Gonzaga must play Inside-out, and make it a point of emphasis to get Rob Sacre involved and as a key part of the offense. Rob provides such a potentially great fourth option, and the coaches and the rest of the team need to get his confidence and production level up to the point that it was at during the beginning portion of the season. I feel like that will be a point of emphasis tonight, and a solid performance from Rob Sacre will lead Gonzaga to the 77-63 victory.