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Gonzaga at Portland

January 27, 2004 Columns No Comments

No Upset This Time

by Jed Tai

You’d never guess it from their relative places in the WCC standings the past few years, but Gonzaga has had a devil of a time with the Portland Pilots.

Last season in their two meetings, the Zags beat Portland by only three on the road, and in the rematch back in Spokane, the unthinkable happened. Head Coach Michael Holton led his Pilots over Gonzaga in the Kennel, 72-68, in what was likely his biggest win as a head coach.

So entering this year’s first matchup between the Zags and the Pilots, Gonzaga was determined to not take anything for granted.

“That was the second loss in the Kennel in my career,” said Gonzaga senior guard Blake Stepp. “You definitely think about that, and coming into here, we definitely had to change some things.”

So that’s exactly what Gonzaga did against Portland at the Chiles Center in Portland on Friday evening. While the Pilots hung tough for 35 minutes, Gonzaga used swift ball-movement, tough defense, and clutch shooting to down Portland, 80-65.

“We showed great poise and really stuck with the game plan down the stretch of the game,” said Gonzaga head coach Mark Few. “We were about as efficient as we could be in the last eight minutes both offensively and defensively. I thought we weathered some storms in there, but eventually we made some of tough shots miss and were able to capitalize at the other end.”

While the final score indicated a double digit win, the game was actually tight for most of the contest in front of a sold-out, capacity crowd. It started early on when Portland used hot shooting from three-point range to take an early 13-11 lead. But Gonzaga used their size advantage inside with Rony Turiaf and Cory Violette, pounding the ball into the paint. The Zags went on an 11-2 run to take a 22-15 advantage midway through the half.

But the Pilots remained hot from the perimeter and continued to fire away from three-point range. And when senior guard Casey Frandsen hit a three just minutes later, the Pilots went back ahead 26-25. Again, the Zags responded by going down low, and went on another 14-4 run to lead 39-30 with two minutes left. But Portland came back with a mini 8-0 streak, and pulled to within one when Pilots forward Patrick Galos scored on a coast-to-coast fast break bucket at the buzzer.

The teams remained separated by no more than six points early in the second half. Portland leading scorer Pooh Jeter started to get hot, and his deep three at the 10:21 mark gave the Pilots a 54-53 lead. Gonzaga came back with a 12-3 run, but Jeter kept the Pilots to within striking distance of six, 67-61, when he sank another three with five minutes left.

But that would be Portland’s last gasp. Behind Turiaf and Stepp, the Zags milked the clock on offense, forcing Portland to chase the ball, sucking the Pilots out of any energy they had left for the offensive end. Portland missed their last ten shots in a row, while Gonzaga scored the next 11 points of the ballgame, essentially putting the contest out of reach.

While the Zags improved to 15-2 overall, 5-0 in the WCC, they knew they were in for a tough fight, regardless of the final score.

“Everybody that plays us right now wants to bring their ‘A’ game to beat us,” said Turiaf. “Tonight we did a good job of making every shot difficult for them, and I think we wore them down. Since we have so much depth, it’s difficult to deal with us for 40 minutes.”

Turiaf led Gonzaga with 21 points and 14 rebounds, shooting 8-for-10 from the field. Stepp finished with 19 points and nine assists – surpassing John Stockton for number two on Gonzaga’s all-time assists list in the process. Violette added 17 points and eight rebounds.

Portland was paced by Jeter, who scored 18 points. Fellow sophomore Donald Wilson added 15, while senior forward Dustin Geddis grabbed 13 rebounds. The Pilots gave it their all in their attempt to pull off the upset, but fell just short.

“I thought we competed and I was pleased with our energy and effort,” said Holton. “They wore us down as the game progressed in the second half and that was the difference. Our goal coming in was obviously to try and win the basketball game and we did everything we could to give ourselves that opportunity, and for that I’m proud that our guys competed. At the end of the day there was a difference in our basketball teams and down the stretch, it was pretty apparent.”

Portland dropped to 8-10 overall, 2-3 in conference play. But as the Pilots head on the road this upcoming week, the fact they were able to hang tough for most of the game against the league’s top team gives them hope.

“That energy that we had the first 35 minutes, that’s the way we should play every game,” said Jeter. “We do that, we’ll come out on top.”

Portland faces Santa Clara in San Jose its next contest on Thursday. Gonzaga will look to continue their eight-game winning streak at San Diego.


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