PORTLAND – This admittedly isn’t a widely accepted hypothesis, but maybe getting thrashed at the McCarthey Athletic Center isn’t such a bad thing for Gonzaga’s WCC opponents.
Pacific absorbed a 33-point loss at GU and responded with five conference wins in six games to climb into fourth place. Santa Clara lost by 49 at the McCarthey Athletic Center, won its next two games and gave the visiting Zags a tougher tussle last Saturday.
No. 15 Gonzaga (17-4, 7-1 WCC) hammered Portland 103-57 two weeks ago, but the Pilots pulled off a road sweep last week for the first time since 2016. The rematch is Thursday at the Chiles Center with the young Pilots clearly making strides over the last 14 days.
Portland (8-13, 2-6) won at San Diego to end a 22-game WCC losing streak. The Pilots followed it up with a near wire-to-wire victory against Loyola Marymount.
What’s changed? The starting lineup, for one. True freshman guard Marcus Shaver Jr. stepped in for sophomore wing Franklin Porter, son of head coach Terry Porter. The younger Porter snapped out of a shooting slump with 16 points off the bench versus the Lions. Shaver joins fellow true freshmen JoJo Walker and Tiharou Diabate in the first five.
Portland’s defense has improved in conference play. The eighth-place Pilots have held five of eight WCC opponents to less than 70 points by employing numerous schemes, including box-and-one and triangle-and-two. They limited San Diego guard Isaiah Wright to three points. He scored 30 in an overtime win in Portland.
Portland remains reliant on guards for the majority of its scoring. Wing Josh McSwiggan, a native of England, provides 12.3 points, followed by Shaver’s 11.3, Porter’s 10.7 and point guard Walker’s 9.0. Reserve wing D’Marques Tyson is next at 6.7, meaning five guards/wings account for 50 of the team’s 70.7 average.
Senior center Philipp Hartwich is the school record-holder in single-season blocks (58 this year) and career swats. He rejected six shots against LMU and leads the WCC at 2.8 per game. His presence didn’t bother GU much the first time as the Zags had 50 paint points.
Senior guard Silas Melson, a Portland native, makes his final appearance in his hometown as a Zag. He torched the Pilots for a career-high 23 points and seven 3-pointers in Spokane.
The Zags are chasing Saint Mary’s, which took over first place with a 74-71 win over Gonzaga last Thursday. The Gaels, who entertain BYU on Thursday, already have dealt with the majority of their toughest road tests.
Gonzaga has won nine straight and 38 of 40 against Portland under coach Mark Few. The Zags are 32-1 in their last 33 WCC road games, with the only setback coming to the Gaels in Moraga, California, in 2016.
Sophomore forward Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga’s top scorer in conference (15.3), had 16 points against Santa Clara on 6-of-16 shooting, his first game of shooting less than .500 since making 1 of 3 against Creighton on Dec. 1.
Hachimura dropped from first to third in field-goal percentage in WCC games. He’s at 66.7 percent and trails Saint Mary’s Jock Landale (67.2) and LMU’s Mattias Markusson (74.3), who has 35 attempts.
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