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Gonzaga vs. Portland game preview: Gonzaga hopes to add to Pilots woes

The Portland Pilots are winless in conference play.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Pepperdine Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs continue their slog through the lower regions of the WCC, facing off against the Portland Pilots on Thursday night.

The Zags return home after a successful trip through southern California. Most recently, Johnathan Williams exploded for 30 points against LMU in a game where the Zags rode the frontcourt to victory.

The Pilots are winless in conference play, having dropped four-straight games. The Pilots only own six wins on the season, and three of those are against non-D-I schools. It will be a long season for Coach Terry Porter, who is sporting one of the youngest teams in the entire country.

Meet the opponent

Portland Pilots, 6-11, KenPom #300

The Pilots are one of the youngest teams out there. They have one upperclassmen in their starting five, senior center Philipp Hartwich. Right off the bat, he is an intriguing matchup. Hartwich is huge, standing at 7’2, but he isn’t the bulkiest of players. Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie will have their arms full trying to keep the ball out of his hands, but they should be able to bully him off the block almost immediately. The Gonzaga offense still needs to be wary in the post, because Hartwich averages 2.8 blocks per game

Don’t let Hartwich fool you, however. Despite his tall interior presence, the Pilots are a team that likes to bomb threes—a lot of them. As a team, the Pilots are 39.4 percent from long range, better than Gonzaga. Portland has five players who attempt more than three three-pointers per game. Gonzaga’s perimeter defense needs to be locked in, because the Pilots, if the shots are falling, can score some points rather quickly.

Of course, the greatest issue is that the Pilots’ opponents also score points quickly. Portland’s defense is ranked No. 315 in the nation. Portland is a horrid rebounding team, both on the offensive end and the defensive end. If the Zags attack the glass, they should generate enough second-chance points to put this game away before it even gets started.

What to watch out for

Let the Rui Hachimura stampede continue

Even after his 30 point explosion, Williams still does not lead the Zags in scoring during conference play. That privilege belongs to Rui Hachimura, who is scoring 13.3 points per game in conference play (Williams is tied for second with Zach Norvell). Rui has done everything to deserve the rock more often, and he is seeing a few more minutes (averaging 17.5 per game in conference). He has been remarkably efficient in conference play, shooting 77 percent from the floor. That number has to come down eventually. It looks like slowly, but surely, Rui is turning into the player we all want.

Continued strong play from Josh Perkins

The Gonzaga point guard is in the midst of an up-and-down season. In the end, many of us will agree that the success of this team often hinges on his performance. Outside of a stinker against Pepperdine, Perkins has been near perfect in the three other WCC contests this year. In conference play, he has an assist to turnover ratio of 4:1. In his last game, he was the first Gonzaga player to notch 10 assists in a game in almost a decade, last done by Matt Bouldin. The Zags need Perkins’ offense, but more so, they need his steady hand, especially come March. Hopefully, he can build off of this momentum.