After returning to the rankings for the first time in more than two months, Gonzaga looks to keep pace in the West Coast Conference race when it plays its final road game of the season Monday against Pacific Northwest rival Portland.
Gonzaga (21-6, 10-1) is tied with No. 25 Saint Mary’s for first place in the WCC. The Bulldogs, who moved into the poll at No. 24 earlier in the day, were last ranked when they were No. 18 on. Dec. 17, but they fell out after a 72-68 loss to Oklahoma three days later.
The Bulldogs have won nine straight meetings against the Pilots (8-19, 2-9), with every victory coming by double digits. They have also won the last 11 road matchups in the series since a 67-66 loss on Jan. 27, 1996.
Gonzaga is playing for the first time since an important 59-55 win at San Diego last Monday. The Bulldogs avoided dropping into third place with their fourth straight win and 12th in their last 14 games.
They will have a chance to avenge their lone league loss when they host Saint Mary’s on Saturday in a possible showdown for first place. The Gaels first play Monday against San Diego, which is also in contention for the title with a 9-2 WCC mark.
A terrific defensive effort was the key for Gonzaga in last week’s win over San Diego, which shot just 33.9 percent (19-of-56). The Bulldogs rank 20th in the nation in defensive field goal percentage, holding opponents to 39.3 percent.
That type of defense was evident in Gonzaga’s 79-41 home rout of Portland on Jan. 28. The Pilots shot a season-low 26.4 percent (14-of-53), which was also the lowest mark allowed by the Bulldogs in the last seven seasons.
On offense, the Bulldogs have four players who average in double figures, led by Matt Bouldin’s 13.0 points per game. Freshman Austin Daye, who averages 11.3 points, had 19 points and a season-high 13 rebounds in last month’s win over Portland.
The Pilots lost their third in a row, 73-60 at San Francisco last Monday. Nik Raivio scored 16 points, but no other Portland player reached double figures.
“The frustration is with the inconsistency, even within a single game,” Portland coach Eric Reveno said. “If you take segments of our games, we look pretty good, but we need to perform more consistently overall.”
Raivio is the Pilots’ leading scorer at 13.1 points per game. He’s the younger brother of former Gonzaga star Derek Raivio, who graduated after last season.
Portland’s roster features 10 underclassmen, including six freshmen. One of the first-year players is 6-foot-8 forward Luke Sikma, who is fifth in the WCC with 7.4 rebounds per game and is the son of former NBA star Jack Sikma.