Gonzaga stings Portland again with 3-point shooting barrage in 96-64 victory

Feb. 7—The Kennel Club's "We Want Tacos" chant usually surfaces later in the second half of games when Gonzaga is closing in on the required 10 3-pointers.

The first chant Wednesday arrived late in the first half after Anton Watson made Gonzaga's ninth 3-pointer. The fans didn't have to wait long as Nolan Hickman served up coupons for free tacos by connecting from deep just 90 seconds into the second half.

The Zags drained nine 3-pointers in the opening half and finished with a season-high 15 while coasting to a 96-64 West Coast Conference victory over Portland. GU's previous high was 12 3-pointers against USC.

Portland's past three visits to Spokane have resulted in Gonzaga hitting 3-pointers at a record rate inside the McCarthey Athletic Center. GU was 18 of 41 on 3s — McCarthey Athletic Center records in both categories — two years ago in a 104-72 win over the Pilots. The Zags nailed 17 3s in a 115-75 home victory last season. In the rematch in Portland, Julian Strawther made 8 3s and scored 40 points in an 82-67 win.

"That's exactly what they do," said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, asked if the Pilots dare GU to take and make 3s with their coverages. "That's how they think they have their best chance to win. We knew that going in, so we spent a lot of time in practice having our feet and hands ready on the perimeter.

"The guys for the most part did a really good job of taking the right ones. I mean you can take a lot of them if you want, but they've got to be the right ones and there's always a context to it."

Gonzaga (17-6, 8-2 WCC) shook off Saturday's 64-62 home loss to first-place Saint Mary's and was dialed in on Portland with another big game on the horizon Saturday against Kentucky in Lexington.

"It just takes some time, high emotion and there was a lot put into that thing," Few said of Saturday's setback. "Sometimes you just have to let them recover and heal. I say this all the time. The last loss of the year in the NCAA Tournament, players come back faster than anybody, it takes like 24 hours. Staff, it takes a little bit longer and fans never recover."{span class="print_trim"}


Portland never recovered from Gonzaga's quick start. GU's first three possessions ended with 3s by Hickman, Watson and Ben Gregg in the first 95 seconds. The Zags went 3 of 14 on 3s in the loss to the Gaels.

Portland coach Shantay Legans called a timeout, but the Zags reeled off seven of the next eight points to move on top 16-1.

After a second timeout by Legans, the Pilots, who missed their first 10 shots, made their first field goal on Tyler Robertson's midrange jumper with 14:14 left.

"I feel like every time we play Portland they do something funky on defense to try to throw us off," said Watson, who finished with two 3-pointers, 20 points, five rebounds and four assists. "Our approach was good. Those first three 3s went down and I feel like that got everybody's confidence going up."

Including players watching from the bench. Reserve forward Braden Huff took advantage of extended minutes due to Graham Ike's foul trouble. He hit 3 of 5 3-pointers and finished with 25 points, one away from his season-high 26 against San Diego, in just over 24 minutes.

"The starters did a great job getting us that early cushion," Huff said. "Seeing a big rim tonight, which was good."

Seven Zags made at least one 3-pointer and nine scored. Hickman led the way with 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting from 3.

Portland, fourth in the WCC in scoring offense (73.5), had nine field goals and made just 26.5% of its shots while trailing 50-23 at half.

"We had a great start on the defensive end," Few said. "We actually had a great half on the defensive end. That team has some real skill and they spread you out and it's different playing them.

"You don't see five-out and a '5' man popping and shooting 3s and fading to the corner and a guy like Robertson wheeling and dealing in the post. On relatively short prep our guys did a nice job."

Gonzaga has won 17 straight in the series.