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Game Preview: Gonzaga at Portland

Can GU have another dominating performance against the Pilots?

NCAA Basketball: Portland at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

After a full week without a game, Gonzaga, with hopefully the benefit of some extra rest and practice, travel to Portland to meet the mercurial Pilots at the Chiles center.

Calling the Pilots mercurial seems a bit hypocritical. After blowing them out by 40 points two weeks ago, Gonzaga demonstrated their own lack of consistency with the LMU loss and the less than stellar Pacific win. The question is which Zag team shows up on Saturday.

Meet the opponent

Portland Pilots, 11-12, KenPom #164

The Pilots are 3-3 in the month of January, with wins over San Francisco, San Diego and Pepperdine all at home. Their three road losses to Gonzaga, SMC and LMU were by a combined 101 points, ouch. While they do play better at home, losses at the Chiles Center include #113 Seattle U (80-68) and #235 North Dakota State (67-62).

Portland’s big three players were acquired through the Transfer Portal. Forward Moses Wood, who spent time at Tulane and UNLV has supplanted Australian and Eastern Washington transfer Tyler Robertson as the leading scorer and rebounder, (14.8 and 6 vs. 14.6 and 5.1). Norwegian Kristian Sjolund, who spent time at Georgia Tech and UTEP, is averaging 13 points and 5 rebounds per game. If you saw the Portland/Michigan State game, it was Sjolund’s two three-pointers in the last minute to cut the deficit to a single point and an almost upset win.

Portland is 34th in the country in 3-point percentage, but when they are off, they are way off. In the 42-point blowout by SMC earlier this month, they were 1 for 19. Two weeks ago, against Gonzaga, they missed their first 10 attempts and in last night’s LMU loss 3 for 18. When they get hot though, as they did against Michigan St., they are a tough out.

What to watch out for

Portland Picks its Poison

Two weeks ago, Portland coach Shantay Legans jammed the paint every time Timme touched the ball and Gonzaga torched the Pilots for 17 essentially uncontested treys. If they make an adjustment and tighten their perimeter defense, Timme abuses the 6’8” Woods and Sjolund in the paint, drops 32+ and passes Jim McPhee as #2 all-time. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

Stay in Their Grill

Yes, the Pilots missed their first 10 three-point attempts last game, but it was the ball pressure that took them completely out of their offensive rhythm. Portland had 12 first half turnovers (19 total), 7 on steals and the game was over in the first ten minutes. Gonzaga needs to exert their superior quickness and athleticism to keep the pilots off balance from the opening tap. Hunter Sallis played 23 minutes against Portland two weeks ago, this is the type of game tailor-made for his substantial defensive skills.

Anton Watson on the Offensive Boards

Whether the misses come from a triple-teamed Timme or clanged three-pointers, Watson should dominate the offensive glass. Just like in the Pacific game, Anton is longer and stronger than both his frontcourt opponents. He grabbed 13 rebounds against Pacific, 6 offensive and there’s no reason to believe Saturday should be any different. Inconsistent Anton has been replaced by dominating Anton who’s filling up the stat sheet.