No. 4 Gonzaga set to play Portland twice in three days (Jan 21, 2017)
No. 4 Gonzaga and Portland will get to know each other well in a three-day stretch, as the teams play in Spokane, Wash., on Saturday and then in Portland two nights later.
The regularly scheduled game will be followed two days later at Portland because the teams’ scheduled Jan. 7 meeting was postponed because of inclement weather. The West Coast Conference rescheduled the game for Monday.
“I don’t think it’s ever good to play Gonzaga back to back, especially with the team they have,” said Portland first-year coach Terry Porter, a former NBA player and head coach.
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Gonzaga coach Mark Few called the postponement and rescheduling “a pain in the rear” for his team because of the extra travel.
“We wanted to play (in Portland on Jan. 7), we should have played,” Few said. “(The postponement) caused a major headache because they overreacted to some pretty puny weather.”
Gonzaga hopes after the quick turnaround on the road that it remains the nation’s only unbeaten team. The Bulldogs are 18-0 overall and 6-0 in the West Coast Conference following Thursday night’s 88-57 win at Santa Clara.
Portland is 9-9 and 2-4 after losing four consecutive games following wins over Pacific and Pepperdine to start the season. The Pilots lost 75-50 at San Francisco on Thursday.
Going from Portland to San Francisco to Spokane to Portland playing three games in five days has Porter concentrating on utilizing his players wisely to guard against fatigue.
“We’ve got to keep our guys as fresh as possible,” Porter said. “We can’t run them a lot (in practice).”
He explained that more time will be spent watching video.
Few’s team goes eight deep with reserves who are significant contributors — Zach Collins (64.6 percent shooting from the field in WCC games), Silas Melson (47.4 percent from 3-point range in WCC games) and Killian Tillie (fourth on team with 17 steals).
The Bulldogs’ rotation is potent offensively, led by point guard Nigel Williams-Goss (15 points and 4.8 assists per game), guard Josh Perkins (46.5 percent from 3-point range), wing player Jordan Mathews (41.8 percent from beyond the arc), power forward Johnathan Williams (60.2 percent from the field) and center Przemek Karnowski (59.5 percent shooter in the paint).
“They’re deep,” Porter said. “They’re tall. They’re athletic. That team checks all the boxes.
“They’re a great perimeter shooting team. They’re great in the low post. They’re great rim protectors and great perimeter defenders.”
Gonzaga faces the task of contending with one of the WCC’s best backcourts with Portland’s Alec Wintering (19.5 points and 5.6 assists a game) and Jazz Johnson (16.9 points a game).
Wintering’s scoring and assists totals rank in the top three in the conference in each category.
Much like its focus against Santa Clara with prolific scorer Jared Brownridge on Thursday, Gonzaga will try to shut down all the pieces around Wintering and Johnson.
Brownridge scored 23 points and KJ Feagin finished with 13, but no other Santa Clara had more than five points.
“I’m really happy about our defensive performance,” Karnowski said. “It’s good … I don’t want to go too far, but it’s good.”
Portland’s defensive challenge is more complex with how Gonzaga can spread a team to the perimeter and be strong in the paint.
“When you play a team like that, you can’t turn it over, and you have to make them work for everything they get,” Porter said. “And you have to be very efficient offensively. You have to make shots and you have to keep their guys off-balance.”