Portland, OR (SportsNetwork.com) - The Portland Pilots will play their West Coast Conference home opener on Saturday, as they entertain the seventh-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs at the Chiles Center.
Gonzaga is once again considered the class of the WCC, the team logging a 13-1 overall record, which includes a 2-0 league ledger. The Bulldogs have won six in a row since suffering their lone setback in a 66-63 overtime decision at Arizona on Dec. 6. The Zags' two conference wins have come against BYU (87-80) and San Diego (60-48), both on the road, improving them to 4-1 in away games this season.
Portland has enjoyed a solid run to this point in the campaign, although it has splits its first two league bouts against the same teams Gonzaga has faced. The Pilots, who are 10-4 overall, knocked off San Diego (61-58) in their league lid lifter, but then dropped a high-scoring affair to BYU (97-88), both of which took place on the road. UofP is 5-1 at home this season.
Gonzaga owns a 93-66 lead in the all-time series with Portland, and has won 19 of the last 20 meetings overall. The teams split a pair of matchups last season, with the Pilots' 82-73 home triumph over a ranked Gonzaga squad giving the team its first win over a member of the Top-25 since 2009, and only its seventh in 62 encounters all-time against ranked opponents.
The Bulldogs didn't shoot the ball all that well in their recent win over San Diego, but played tremendous defense in remaining undefeated in conference play. Gonzaga made good on 42.3 percent of its total shots, missing the mark on two-thirds of its 3-point attempts along the way, but it limited the Toreros to just 26.8 percent field goal efficiency, which included a 5-of-22 showing from beyond the arc. Kyle Wiltjer led the Zags with 15 points, Byron Wesley tacked on a dozen and Kevin Pangos finished with 10.
Wiltjer continues to pace Gonzaga in the scoring column with his 17.1 ppg, while Wesley and Pangos also average double figures with 12.0 and 11.5 ppg, respectively. Domantas Sabonis and Przemek Karnowski both net 9.9 ppg, with the latter also serving as the squad's top rebounder with 6.9 rpg. As a team, the Bulldogs are lighting up the scoreboard to the tune of 82.2 ppg, shooting 52.5 percent from the floor overall and almost 40 percent from 3-point land in the process. The team's defensive effort yields only 60.6 ppg, with foes hitting a mere 37.8 percent of their total shots, which encompasses a 30.3 percent effort from downtown. GU also owns a considerable rebounding margin at +10.1.
Alec Wintering poured in a career-high 30 points to lead all five starters in double figures, but the offensive outburst went to waste as Portland dropped a nine-point decision at BYU earlier in the week. The Pilots, who battled back from a 22-point deficit midway through the second half to make a game of it, made good on 47.6 percent of their total shots, which included nine 3- pointers, but the Cougars were successful on nearly 51 percent of their field goal attempts, while committing only eight turnovers compared to 13 for the visitors.
It was quite a showing by Wintering, who currently ranks second on the team in scoring with his 12.9 ppg. Kevin Bailey (13.1 ppg) is listed as Portland's overall scoring leader, but he has appeared in only seven games due to an injured foot. Wintering also serves as the team's primary playmaker with 5.1 apg, while other double-digit scorers include Thomas van der Mars (10.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and Volodymyr Gerun (10.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg). The team as a whole is generating 73.3 ppg while surrendering 65.7 ppg, and the Pilots are a sound free-throw shooting squad (.756). They also log a favorable margin on the glass (+7.5).