Gonzaga is used to getting the best shot from every opponent it faces in the West Coast Conference. It’s also accustomed to emerging with a victory.
What the Bulldogs are certainly not familiar with is a conference losing streak.
Coming off their first defeat in 28 WCC games, the No. 17 Bulldogs look to avoid their first consecutive league losses in nearly a decade when they host surging Portland on Thursday night.
Gonzaga (17-4, 6-1) has won the past nine WCC regular-season titles, losing just 11 conference games since the start of the 2000-01 season.
It hadn’t had a longer conference winning streak in that stretch than the 27-game run it carried into San Francisco on Saturday night. However, two days after needing a late comeback to edge Santa Clara, the Dons ended the streak with an 81-77 overtime victory.
“We’ve been playing with fire a little bit,” coach Mark Few said. “Everybody’s been playing us tough and we’ve been able to make a lot of plays at the end of games. This time USF made some big plays.”
Leading scorers Matt Bouldin (16.5 points per game) and Elias Harris (16.3) combined for 36 points on 11-of-21 shooting, but their supporting cast let them down. The rest of the Bulldogs shot 36.8 percent.
It was the fifth league game Gonzaga has been involved in that was decided by seven points or fewer. Last season, just three of its 14 contests were that close.
“We’ve been putting ourselves in that situation it seems like just about every game,” said guard Steven Gray, who missed 11 of 13 shots. “We’re not playing with the energy that we need and it finally caught up to us. Hopefully it will be a wake-up call.”
That is exactly what losses have typically been for the Bulldogs. They have not dropped back-to-back conference games since Feb. 12-17, 2000.
Gray, third on the team behind Bouldin and Harris at 13.9 points per game, averaged 9.5 points on 24.4 percent shooting in the Bulldogs’ four losses. He made one of 20 3-point attempts.
Gray’s worst game, though, may have come in a tight win. The junior guard shot 1 of 8 and had two points against Portland (14-7, 5-2) on Jan. 9 as visiting Gonzaga escaped with an 81-78 victory.
Bouldin scored 20 points and Harris had 18.
Both of Portland’s losses were close games and came against the league’s top two teams, the most recent a 77-72 defeat at Saint Mary’s on Jan. 16.
The Pilots have blown out four opponents since that loss, winning by an average of 23.5 points and most recently beating the two teams that gave Gonzaga trouble. Jared Stohl had 22 points in a 74-58 victory at San Francisco last Thursday and scored 16 in a 74-52 win at Santa Clara on Saturday.
It was Portland’s second road sweep of the WCC’s Bay Area teams in 34 years.
Stohl has stepped up with leading scorer Nik Raivio - brother of former Bulldogs guard Derek - sidelined the past four games with an Achilles’ strain. He averaged 18.5 points in those contests, well above his season mark of 11.1.
Raivio is unlikely to return Thursday.
Stohl has 137 3-pointers among his 165 field goals this season. He has made 47.4 percent from beyond the arc and hit at least four 3s in each game of the winning streak.
Stohl hit six 3s against the Bulldogs last month, while forward Robin Smeulders had a game-high 24 points.