Gonzaga survives scare at Portland, 81-78
Matt Bouldin scored 20 points, helping Gonzaga withstand a challenge from Portland for an 81-78 victory in the Bulldogs' West Coast Conference opener.
Seattle Times college basketball reporter
PORTLAND — The West Coast Conference's version of the Yankees came to the Chiles Center Saturday night, and that meant that with Gonzaga's Bol Kong at the foul line and 4.6 seconds left, Zags ahead 81-78, the capacity crowd was at fullest roar.
Kong, a deft shooter, missed both. And here came the University of Portland, firing up the floor bent on tying the game and ruining all the (mostly) good work the Zags had done the previous 35 minutes.
They got the ball on the right wing to guard Jared Stohl, an uncanny shooter from Marysville-Pilchuck who recently set a school record with 10 threes in a game. This one would send it to overtime.
Under heavy guard — something that wasn't the case often enough for the Zags on this night — Stohl corkscrewed his body and twisted up a trey. The hopes of the Pilots, who have made no bones about their belief they can unseat the nine-time defending WCC champion Zags, hung in the balance.
Underneath, Zags guard Matt Bouldin prepared himself for another five minutes.
"That's going in," he said. "That's money."
Turned out it was funny money. Stohl's cast, an attempt for his seventh three of the night, clattered off the front of the iron and in the game's last millisecond, the Zags had finally put away the Pilots.
"His last look," said Eric Reveno, the terrific Portland coach, "I don't think he saw the rim."
Thus did life on the WCC road begin for the Zags, who don't have to apologize for a hairbreadth victory over a team that lost to Idaho by 20 and Washington by 35. In November, Portland crashed the AP rankings for the first time in 50 years, and with four seniors and two juniors comprising its top six scorers, this is a team that has reached fruition under Reveno.
Regardless, there's never any lack of want-to when the Zags visit opposing gyms in their league.
"They didn't call that one," said Bouldin, showing off a deep double rake mark on the inside of his elbow. "What is that?"
On a night when they showed various vulnerabilities and battled foul trouble, the Zags survived to go 12-3, winning their fourth straight. And they served notice that if Portland's going to defrock the champion, the Pilots have a battle on their hands.
Gonzaga took the lead with 15 minutes left in the first half and for most of the night, held margins of a few points to 11. But every time they began to get comfortable, Stohl would rocket in a three or 6-10 forward Robin Smeulders — 9 for 10 from the field for 24 points — would weave inside for two.
There were more deficits in performance than Gonzaga should have been able to surmount. Seven-footer Robert Sacre was a non-factor, fouling out after 15 minutes in a futile attempt to combat Smeulders.
"It was frustrating with the fouls," said Gonzaga coach Mark Few. "It's tough when you go from Illinois (Gonzaga's opponent a week earlier) where it was kind of no-holds-barred, and it wasn't quite the same as that. Sometimes it's hard for players to adjust."
Steven Gray, the junior from Bainbridge, had a forgettable night, making one field goal and throwing some lazy passes that became three turnovers.
"Me and Steven kind of went cold there for a few minutes," said Bouldin.
Hearing him, Gray copped to the bad night, muttering, "More than a few minutes."
With all that shortfall, up stepped Bouldin ("He was phenomenal," said Few), who was nails with 20 points and nine assists without a turnover. He was abetted by the Zags' bench, in particular Sudanese guard Kong (12 points) and freshman forward Kelly Olynyk (13). Elias Harris added 18 for the Zags.
Kong had a big three and a weaving layup along the baseline, and still another three with 5:08 left to push Gonzaga's lead to 68-55, biggest of the night. Portland's all about heart, though, and kept offsetting pairs of Bouldin free throws with fast hoops down the stretch, setting up Kong's final two free-throw attempts.
He whiffed on them, and the Zags held their breath. Not until Stohl misfired could they exhale. As worthy a challenger as Portland was, Gonzaga looks ready for title No. 10.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Attendance: 5,003. Officials: Ken Ditty, Scott Harris, Kevin Cutler.
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