Bulldogs seek redemption against pesky Pilots

Feb 5, 2014 - 3:42 PM Spokane, WA (SportsNetwork.com) - The 23rd-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs will attempt to remain unbeaten at the McCarthy Athletic Center on Wednesday night when they take on the Portland Pilots in a West Coast Conference showdown.

Although Portland is a solid 13-10 overall this season, it has struggled in the WCC with just a 5-6 league record. The Pilots close out a three-game road swing in this matchup, having previously lost at San Francisco on Jan. 29 (84-71) before beating Santa Clara on Saturday (76-64).

Gonzaga has ripped of six straight wins to improve to 20-3 and was reintroduced to the Top 25 after a three-week absence from the national rankings. The Bulldogs earned a solid road win on Saturday at San Francisco, 75-65, giving them a 10-1 record in the WCC as they hold firm to first place in the standings with a comfortable three-game lead over USF and BYU (7-4).

The Bulldogs' latest loss came at Portland on Jan. 9, 82-73, which snapped their 20-game winning streak in the series. Gonzaga still holds a 91-66 advantage all-time over the Pilots.

Trailing by three early in the second half over the weekend, the Pilots ripped off a 25-10 run and never looked back from there en route to the 12-point victory. They shot a lofty 52.1 percent from the field in the win and 24-of-28 at the free-throw line, while holding Santa Clara to a mere 38.2 percent shooting. Thomas Van Der Mars shined, making 9-of-10 from the field and all 10 free-throw tries on his way to a career-high 28 points to with 11 rebounds. Ryan Nicholas also tallied a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Kevin Bailey and Alec Wintering both netted 10 points.

Portland has grown accustomed to strong offensive performances, as it shoots nearly 46 percent from the field for 78.0 ppg, which helps mask its lackluster scoring defense (73.1 ppg). Bailey leads the way with 16.6 ppg and is having an active, efficient season at the free-throw line (99-of-134). Van Der Mars (12.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg) makes 60 percent of his shots from the field, while Nicholas is a nightly double-double threat with 12.4 ppg and 9.0 rpg.

The Bulldogs built up a four-point halftime lead over USF on Saturday and never relinquished that advantage down the stretch on their way to a strong 10-point road victory. They shot just 38.3 percent from the field, but USF was even worse (.345), and they made up for it with an outstanding 34-of-41 showing at the free-throw line. Sam Dower drained 12-of-13 from the stripe and 6-of-10 from the field for 24 points. Gary Bell Jr. scored 13 points, Przemek Karnowski tallied 12 points, eight rebounds and three blocks and Kyle Dranginis pulled down 12 boards.

Gonzaga's poor field-goal shooting performance the last time out was a rare occurrence, as it ranks third in the nation in both field goal percentage (.504) and 3-point percentage (.416) for a WCC-best 79.3 ppg. It's also played lock-down defense, holding opponents to just 39.6 percent shooting and 65.9 ppg. Kevin Pangos has made 61-of-138 from beyond the arc (.442) and is shooting just shy of 90 percent from the foul line on his way to a team-best 15.4 ppg. Dower (14.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg, .601 FG percentage) and Karnowski (10.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.8 bpg, .578 FG percentage) are an imposing duo in the frontcourt, while Bell rounds out the double-digit scorers with 12.5 ppg.

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