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Gonzaga’s road warriors keep winning

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Neither team was completely satisfied Saturday night after Gonzaga turned away Portland 87-75 in an West Coast Conference game.

The seventh-ranked Bulldogs never trailed, but they let a 21-point lead in the second half slip to five with less than two minutes to go at the Chiles Center before pulling out their seventh consecutive victory.

“They’re a good team, and they’re at home, so you expect them to have some sort of run in them — and we obliged,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We gave them a lot of second-chance points and didn’t keep up with our defensive assignments like we did the first 30 minutes.”

Portland shot 53.1 percent from the field in the second half against a Gonzaga team that had allowed its opponents to make 37.8 percent coming into the game. The Pilots’ hard-fought comeback attempt left them thinking of what could have been had they opened the game in the attack mode they showed after intermission.

“That was really surprising,” Pilots coach Eric Reveno said. “I think it’s caring too much, wanting to be perfect, and not just relaxing and playing. We didn’t just relax and fly around.”

Gonzaga (14-1) improved to 3-0 in the conference in what has been a travel-heavy first half of the season.

“We’ve been on the road for like a month,” Few said. Considering that, he added, “it’s pretty remarkable what we’ve been able to do. We started this journey way back in Tucson (with a 66-63 overtime loss to Arizona). I told our guys I’m proud of the way they’ve held up, and now we get to go play at home.”

Gonzaga’s next two games are WCC matchups with San Francisco on Thursday and Santa Clara next Saturday.

When the Bulldogs were rolling against Portland, they did it with depth and rebounding. Season scoring leader Kyle Wiltjer went scoreless on 0-of-4 shooting from the field in the first half and finished with eight points, well below his 17.1-point average through 14 games.

Still, Gonzaga led by as many as 19 points in the first half and carried a 43-28 advantage to the break. The Zags did not allow Portland an individual offense rebound through the first 10:32.

Things continued to go well for Gonzaga, with Portland trailing 65-44 midway through the second half. Then the Pilots (10-5, 1-2) caught fire and began to heat up on the boards.

Portland pulled to within six points with 5:25 remaining and stayed close, slicing Gonzaga’s lead to 75-70 with 1:58 left.

The Bulldogs won the two-minute drill, though, to secure the win.

Guard Kevin Pangos connected from from 18 feet to make the score 77-70, and the Gonzaga defense then stripped Portland center Thomas van der Mars at the other end. Bulldogs center Przemek Karnowski dunked on a three-point play that boosted the lead to 80-70.

Karnowski and Pangos led all scorers with 21 points each, but Karnowski took issue with his two rebounds.

“We just didn’t play with the same intensity all game,” Karnowski said. “We kind of relaxed, didn’t focus enough, and let them come back. I didn’t do a good job on that (rebounding). It’s on me, and on the entire team.”

Van der Mars had 17 points and a game-high eight rebounds, and Portland point guard Alec Wintering had 20 points and a game-best eight assists, with no turnovers in 40 minutes.

“We came out a little flat,” van der Mars said, “and against a team like Gonzaga, that will kill you. It shouldn’t ever happen, especially at this level. If we had competed all the way, we could have given ourselves a chance.”

Wiltjer, playing in his hometown, drew his third foul 19 seconds into the second half. He got his first points of the night by muscling in a putback on a three-point play with 18:14 left in the second half. He was the eighth Gonzaga player to score.

“They were pretty dialed in on Kyle,” Few said of the Pilots’ defense. “But he also got a couple looks he usually makes.”

Defensively, Few said, Wiltjer “has to work on playing preventive defense instead of waiting for his guy to get the ball in an area where he (Wiltjer) is susceptible.”

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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