PORTLAND, Ore. (AP)—For 32 minutes, unheralded Portland was even with No. 24 Gonzaga. That’s nothing new for the Pilots, who often play their main rival tough on their home court.
But, just as has been the case in most of the recent meetings between the teams, Gonzaga managed to pull away down the stretch, this time to a 73-51 victory on Monday night.
It wasn’t easy for the Zags (22-6, 11-1), who struggled for much of the first half but managed to stay tied with Saint Mary’s for first place in the West Coast Conference.
“I thought they were physically playing harder than us, at least for 20 minutes,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said of Portland. “Then we were kind of able to flick the switch a little bit.”
The Pilots, who played without leading scorer Nik Raivio who was out with a right knee contusion, held the lead for most of the first half because Gonzaga started cold from the field, hitting five of its first 15 shots as Portland took a 21-14 lead that eventually grew to 27-19.
During that stretch it seemed no one played well for Gonzaga.
“We were a little impatient, took some bad shots and didn’t take care of the ball,” Few said.
Gonzaga rallied behind the strong guard play of Jeremy Pargo, who had nine of his team’s last 11 points in the first half as the Bulldogs trimmed Portland’s lead to 29-27.
“He changed the game,” Few said of Pargo, “but he was one of the culprits to start the game. One of the qualities he has, when he’s playing poorly, he can rise up and change a game.”
The teams exchanged the lead for the first 9 minutes of the second half with neither team leading by more than two points. Portland (8-20, 2-10) had its last lead of the game at 40-39 when Sherrard Watson made two free throws with 11:27 remaining.
Gonzaga then went on a 26-11 run to put the game away.
The Zags took the lead for good when Austin Daye hit a 3-pointer—his only points of the game—with 10:28 to go. That started a 17-4 run that included baskets by six Gonzaga players and put the Zags comfortably ahead 56-44.
After turning the ball over nine times in the first half, the Zags committed just five turnovers in the second. Gonzaga turned a 17-14 rebounding deficit at halftime into a 37-27 advantage by the end of the game. Gonzaga improved its shooting from 44 percent in the first half to 55.6 percent in the second, finishing at 50 percent (26-of-52).
“Our main focus was to limit their transition offense and prevent second-chance opportunities,” Portland coach Eric Reveno said. “We did a good job of that for the most part, but they wore us down on the glass as the game went on. Their athleticism and length provided difficult matchups.”
Pargo finished 6-of-10 from field and had 13 points. David Pendergraft also had 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting. Micah Downs added 12 points for the Bulldogs.
Reserve Robin Smeulders led Portland with 12 points, while Walter Thompson and Taishi Ito both added 10. All three played well for Portland but it was an overall team effort that kept the game close until the latter stages of the second half.
“(Portland) runs a really tough offense, especially if you’re a step slow, and they were taking it at us in the first half,” Few said.
It was Gonzaga’s 10th straight win over Portland and the Bulldogs’ 12th consecutive victory over the Pilots in Portland. The Pilots’ last victory over the Zags came in 2003 when Portland won 72-68 in Spokane.
“They are a very good team and we’re trying to keep getting better,” Reveno said. “I was pleased that we played them tougher tonight, but am still disappointed with our lack of consistency.”