Gonzaga Bulldogs, Portland Pilots Lift Off WCC Schedule

Mike HendersonCorrespondent IIJanuary 8, 2010

ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 27: Nik Raivio #15 of the Portland Pilots shoots over Ralph Sampson III of the Minnesota Gophers at the 76 Classic at Anaheim Convention Center on November 27, 2009 in Anaheim, California.  Portland won 61-56. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Portland Pirates started off the season with a bang, defeating UCLA and Minnesota before losing to West Virginia in the 76 Classic final. Included was a brief visit into the Top 25.

However, this was followed by two more losses, including a 20-point defeat at the hands of Idaho. Two weeks later, Portland avenged the loss with a 30-point victory of their own.

The Pilots had been pegged as the top contender to Gonzaga in the WCC this season, even before people knew how good the Zags would be. Throwing out the debacle against Duke, the Zags have been a pleasant surprise on the national scene, handling a tough non-conference schedule pretty well. Close losses to Michigan State and Wake Forest are the only other blemishes on their slate.

This means that Portland will be in tough even though they host the Zags on Saturday in the WCC opener for both. Consistency has been an issue for this team, but on their good nights they have shown that they can play with most teams.

Nik Raivio (a name Zags' fans are familiar with) and T. J. Campbell lead a balanced scoring attack for the Pilots, who also have three players that average six or more rebounds per game - including about 10 offensive boards per contest. At times, turnovers have been their downfall - in losses to Idaho and Washington they had 19 and 22 respectively. They shoot the three fairly well, making about 8 per game.

Gonzaga's three point field goal percentage is not quite as good but they will take them. Steven Gray has really not found his stroke yet but can be a deadeye shooter. Their rebounding is solid, thanks mainly to freshman Elias Harris, who hauled down 16 in the win at Illinois. Robert Sacre has the size and the strength to be a defensive force and in order to become a well-rounded player needs make a strong commitment on that end of the floor.

The key for the Zags is to play consistently from start to finish. The highs and lows in the Illinois game were sublime - going from being up by 21 to being down by 8 to winning in OT. If nothing else, they were certainly resilient.

Portland needs to try and keep the game at their own pace. Gonzaga likes to get up and down and the Pilots can't match their firepower. Their best shot is to try and wear the Zags' guards down by making them defend well into the shot clock. If they do this, they have a shot a the home-court "upset."

It says here though, that they won't. Gonzaga will survive and take and early lead in the WCC race.