Portland entertains No. 8 Gonzaga in WCC action

The eighth-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs continue their assault on the rest of the West Coast Conference, as they hit the road for Thursday night's clash with the Portland Pilots.

Gonzaga is once again enjoying a tremendously successful season, as the team is 16-1 overall and has won its first three conference bouts. Since suffering an 85-74 home loss to nationally-ranked Illinois on Dec. 8, the Bulldogs have run off seven straight wins, the most recent of which being an 83-78 decision versus Saint Mary's-CA, one of the teams expected to challenge the Zags for league supremacy again this year. Gonzaga is 4-0 in true road games, the last two of which (Pepperdine, Santa Clara) came by double figures.

Portland has not enjoyed anywhere near the same level of success as its counterpart tonight, as the team comes in with an 8-10 overall record, which includes a 1-2 league ledger. The Pilots were able to secure that one WCC victory in their most recent outing by taking down the Lions of Loyola Marymount last Saturday, 68-64. While its season record is sub par, Portland has performed well at the Chiles Center by winning six of the eight games played there.

Gonzaga leads the all-time series with Portland, 89-65, and the Bulldogs have won each of the last 18 meetings. The Pilots last topped the Zags in a 72-68 final on Feb. 19, 2003 in Spokane.

Gonzaga is one of the more potent offensive teams in the country, the Zags averaging a healthy 80.7 ppg in hitting 50.9 percent of their field goal attempts, although that includes a lackluster 31 percent showing from 3-point land. The Bulldogs' effort against the same long-range shot has been exceptional (.258), but their overall defensive play allows for more than 71 ppg. Kelly Olynyk (18.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg) heads a trio of double-digit scorers for GU, and he has actually upped the ante since the start of conference play by averaging better than 26 ppg in the three wins. Elias Harris checks in with 14.9 points and 6.8 caroms per contest, and Kevin Pangos contributes 12.4 points and 3.7 assists per outing. Olynyk scored 31 points and grabbed eight rebounds to help push Gonzaga past Saint Mary's the last time out, becoming the first Bulldog since Adam Morrison in 2006 to net 30 or more points in two games in the same season. He did so against Santa Clara on Jan. 5. Pangos nailed three treys in tallying 22 points, and Harris chipped in with 13 points and six boards for the Zags, who made good on 54.2 percent of their field goal attempts, compared to 45.9 percent for the Gaels. Gonzaga turned the ball over only eight times, and outscored the visitors in the paint, 46-34.

With a record below .500, it's not surprising to find the Pilots being outscored by 3.2 ppg. They do however, outshoot the opposition on average (.419 to .407), although only 29.5 percent of their 3-point tries find the bottom of the net. Portland owns a +5.4 edge in the rebounding battle, but commits 14.8 turnovers per outing compared to 11.4 tpg for the opposition. Ryan Nicholas (13.4 ppg) is one of two players currently averaging double digits in the scoring column for the Pilots, Kevin Bailey (12.0 ppg) being the other, and he is the second-ranked rebounder in the conference, coming down with 9.8 rpg. In the recent win over Loyola Marymount, Nicholas logged another double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds, Bailey added 14 points, Thomas Van Der Mars finished with 11 points and nine boards, and Derrick Rodgers nearly had himself a double-double as he tallied 10 points and nine assists. Portland shot 54.7 percent from the floor, knocking down 4-of-9 3-point attempts, while holding the Lions to 37.7 percent field goal efficiency, which included an 8-of-23 showing from downtown. The Pilots won the game despite committing 17 turnovers. By comparison, LMU was guilty of only five. A massive 43-19 edge in rebounding certainly helped the Pilots' cause.