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Julian Strawther torches Portland in 82-67 win

The junior wing scored a career high 40 points in a stellar road performance.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Pacific Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t always pretty, but the Gonzaga Bulldogs are finding ways to win ball games. The Zags held off a frisky Portland Pilots squad that was looking for an upset in front of a very Gonzaga-heavy crowd in their own building.

Coming on the heels of a career best scoring performance from Drew Timme, Julian Strawther had a career night of his own and was spectacular with 40 points (14-21 FG, 8-12 3PT FG), 6 rebounds, and 2 steals. It’s the first 40+ point scoring performance for the Zags since Kyle Wiltjer scored 45 points on the road against Pacific on February 19, 2015. Anton Watson was also excellent and produced a strong outing with 17 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals in another box score stuffing performance.

The grind continues for the Gonzaga Bulldogs. The Zags had six days to regroup after last weekend’s debacle, and the benefit of playing a team that they pummeled by 40 points just two weeks ago. This game was not a reprise of that one.

The Portland defense looked much sterner than the sieve that Gonzaga encountered two weeks ago, with the Pilots committed to clogging the interior and forcing the ball out of Drew Timme’s (8 points, 3-7 FG) hands. Strawther was the major beneficiary, and he definitely took advantage of all the daylight that Portland gave him. The junior forward had it going in the first half, going 5-7 from the three-point line to help Gonzaga maintain a narrow lead at the break. But Strawther had to do too much of the heavy lifting for the Zags. Watson was his usual steady self but the other three starters combined for only 14 points in the game.

At the other end of the floor, Gonzaga’s defense “held” Portland to just 29 points in the first half, though I’m certainly not declaring the Gonzaga defense cured. On the contrary, many of the issues that we’ve seen over the last few weeks were still present. Portland found themselves in the game, a major change from the last time they took the court against Gonzaga, but it can’t be said that they capitalized against a struggling Gonzaga team.

Don’t get me wrong, Portland pushed Gonzaga to the limit in the second half. Also, I can’t believe that’s a real life sentence I just typed after the game these two teams played against each other just 14 days prior. Gonzaga’s opponents smell blood in the water, and rightly so. At the moment, the most successful team in the WCC over the last 25 years is extremely beatable.

Things are not coming easily for the Zags, but they still know what it takes to close out games and are able to maintain their composure enough to execute in tough moments. For the time being, that’s the only separator between the Zags and their WCC foes.

While the Zags are not playing perfect basketball, they are still fighting in every game and doing enough to win. There is a lot to be said about that. Strawther, in particular, was exceptional as he combined a barrage from long distance with an array of floaters that halted a Portland run on more than one occasion. Hopefully, Strawther is able to string together a few more performances like this one to alleviate the pressure on the interior duo of Timme and Watson. Gonzaga will need it.