In all honesty, out of any team that you want to see play Gonzaga as a tuneup for Memphis, it would be the Portland Pilots. The Pilots have a knack for stringing together some nice runs of play against Gonzaga, and outside of last year, Gonzaga has always come out on top.
Last time around, Gonzaga came away with a 12-point win. It was a score that was both too close and not as far away as the game suggested. The Bulldogs took a big lead, which Portland chipped away into something more reasonable. But like most games between the two, it was too little and too late for the Pilots.
Gonzaga has rattled off 13-straight and wakes up on Thursday morning as the only team in college basketball with 20 wins. Gonzaga is coming off of two very convincing wins over Saint Mary's and Pacific, and the Bulldogs appear to be playing the best basketball of the season. After that near scare at Pepperdine, the last three games have been firm boots on the throats of WCC opponents.
Portland's fortunes have been a bit more rough. WCC play hasn't been kind to the Pilots, who sit 3-7 in the WCC and have lost four of their past five contests. A trip into Spokane is hardly what the doctor ever orders, but that is what the doctor ordered up for Portland this week.
Meet the opponent
Portland Pilots, 12-9, KenPom #151
On the offensive end of things, it should come a little bit easier for Portland this time around. Senior guard Kevin Bailey missed the last contest against Gonzaga with an injury, and regardless of who the opponent is, it is hard to make up the second highest scorer on the team. Alec Wintering is a solid guard with a knack for big time shots -- his game winning three sent Pacific packing last week.
Up front, the Pilots have height and they were one of the few teams to figure out Kyle Wiltjer. Wiltjer was held to eight points on 3-of-10 shooting his last time around. Unfortunately, Thomas van der Mars and Volodymyr Gerun didn't do anything to stop Przemek Karnowski. Karnowski dropped a season-high 21 points on the Pilots, highlighted by one of the best plays of the entire year.
Karnowski will still have his hands full trying to fend off van der Mars. The senior center has a knack for rising to the occasion against Gonzaga, scoring 17 points his last time around. He has been particularly good in his past two games, averaging 16.5 points and 10.5 rebounds.
The four factors
All stats courtesy of Ken Pomeroy
|eFG%||59.1 (2)||50.0 (120)|
|TO%||16.1 (23)||17.4 (58)|
|OR%||35.9 (40)||35.6 (50)|
|FTR||35.9 (213)||33.4 (274)|
What to watch out for
Barring any sort of insanity, Kevin Pangos will become the all-time leader in threes made in school history. He currently sits tied with Blake Stepp at 288 and it is perfect that the record will fall in the happy confines of The Kennel. Pangos has been held without a three 15 times over a career of 123 games.
Control of the boards.
Gonzaga is thebest rebounding team in the league by far, but Portland isn't too far behind. The Pilots hold a rebounding edge of +5.1 this season and they do that by a relentless attack on the offensive glass. Portland is the top offensive rebounding team in the conference and is ranked No. 39 overall in the nation. If Gonzaga properly boxes out, it is going to be near impossible for Portland to find the room to score. If Gonzaga gets lazy down low, Portland has players to clean up the leftovers.
Keep feeding the ball to Domantas Sabonis.
The freshman forward has really made a turn for the better this season. He was always a great shooter, but fouls and turnovers were limiting his minutes. Not so much anymore. In the past five games, Sabonis is shooting 79 percent from the floor and averaging 10 rebounds per game. He is playing with his usual beyond elevated intensity, but the difference this time around is he isn't turning the ball over. Sabonis is really starting to show what will make him a monster player later in the year and in the NCAA Tournament.
Time: 6 p.m. PT
TV: KHQ/ROOT Sports (Greg Heister, Richard Fox, Dan Dickau)
Radio: AM 1510 KGA (Spokane), AM 880 KIXI (Seattle), AM 1360 KUIK (Portland)