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Zags have way too much for Pilots


The traditional list of things one can count upon in life (death, taxes, fake girlfriends playing tricks on guys over the Internet) includes a Gonzaga victory when it meets up with Portland on the hardcourt.

The Bulldogs’ 71-49 rout of the Pilots Thursday night at Chiles Center was their 19th straight win in the West Coast Conference series and their 33rd in 34 meetings since 1996.

Custer had a better chance at Little Bighorn.

I’ve seen Eric Reveno’s Pilots give Mark Few’s Bulldogs a pretty good run at Chiles several times over the years, but it didn’t happen Thursday.

Part of that is Portland (8-11 overall, 1-3 in WCC action) isn’t a very good team, especially with starting point guard David Carr lost for the season after knee surgery.

The other side is that the eighth-ranked Bulldogs (17-1, 4-0) are loaded.

Reveno’s game plan was to pack the middle, swarm 7-footers Kelly Olynyk and Przemek Karnowski and make the Zags beat the Pilots from the perimeter.

Olynyk got off only one shot and scored two points and Karnowski was blanked in the first half, but Gonzaga bombed in 8 of 15 3-pointers en route to a 36-26 lead at the break.

In the second half, Olynyk got loose for 19 of his game-high 21 points and the Zags did most of their damage inside in an arresting display of versatility.

“That’s what we can do,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We have some nice balance this year. We can call on a lot of guys.”

The Zags hammered Portland on the boards (36-22) and in points in the paint (36-18), got off 14 more shots from the field than did UP and scored 30 points off 17 Pilot turnovers.

Reveno’s game plan was to limit Gonzaga’s post production, take care of the ball and keep the Zags off the glass. One-half out of three wasn’t nearly good enough.

The Pilots had plenty of open shots from the outside, especially early. They seemed reluctant to take them, other than Kevin Bailey, who hit his first six from the field and finished with 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting, and rambunctious freshman Oskars Reinfelds, who had a dozen points in 22 minutes off the bench.

“We had a struggle offensively,” said Reveno, in his seventh season on The Bluff. “We weren’t playing very confident. We were stagnant.”

Gonzaga’s suffocating man-to-man defense had something to do with that. The Zags have size and athleticism and are good enough to win even when the offensive production is only marginal.

Portland’s sophomore center, Thomas van der Mars, went scoreless with one rebound in 19 minutes. Starting shooting guard Korey Thieleke went 0 for 5 from the field in his 14 minutes. Leading scorer Ryan Nicholas made only two baskets and finished with seven points and eight boards in 32 minutes.

Senior point guard Derrick Rodgers (four points, two assists, two turnovers in 34 minutes) may be a capable backup, but he’s no Division-I starter. Rodgers’ backup now is true freshman David Ahern, a walk-on who was taken out of a redshirt season with Carr’s injury and was playing his second game Thursday night.

The Pilots lose only Rodgers from this year’s team and should be better next season, especially if they can beef things up in the backcourt. They could really use a Jared Stohl-type bomber from long range and a do-it-all point man along the lines of former Pilot T.J. Campbell.

Signed to come in next season is Alec Wintering, a 5-8 prep senior who plays for Muggsy Bogues in Concord, N.C. — the No.-3 ranked point guard in the state according to basketballelite.com.

“He’ll give us some playmaking,” Reveno said. “And we have one scholarship open. We’re looking for someone in regard to ballhandling skills.”

I’d go the junior-college route there, Coach.

As for Gonzaga, there is great promise in Few’s 14th season as head coach. With wins over Clemson, Davidson, Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Saint Mary’s already in the bag and loss only to Illinois, the Zags are off to the best start in school history. Few programs in the country can match the talent in their 10-man rotation.

Few’s best team?

“Everybody is asking me that,” he said. “It’s mid-January. Who knows? But up to this point, none of my teams have done what this team has done.

“I was telling (former Gonzaga great Jeremy) Pargo, his teams posted some big wins in February and March. We’ll see if we can do that. That’s to be determined. Right now, (his players) have done a nice job of handling the gauntlet of schedule I threw at them.”

The Zags have mostly been disappointing in the postseason over the years, making the NCAA Tournament every season in the Few era but never advancing beyond the Sweet Sixteen. Reveno won’t be surprised if this is the year that changes.

“This is the best Gonzaga team that has come into Chiles since I’ve been here offensively, and they proved it tonight by doing something different — making (perimeter) shots,” he said. The Bulldogs “are better than they have been offensively, and defensively, year in and year out, they’re underrated. I’m not sure they’re better defensively than they have been, but they’re as good.”

The Pilots are destined for a lower-echelon finish in the WCC, though Reveno won’t accept that.

“I told our players, the next step for us is to learn from this one,” he said. “We need to improve on some things, with self-inflicted turnovers at the top of the list.

“What this showed tonight is we’re not good enough to beat a top-10 team in our building right now. It doesn’t prove anything else. We have a lot of positive stuff going on, and we have to grow from that.”

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Twitter: @kerryeggers