Pilots’ quick start helps finish Zags

News servicesJanuary 10, 2014 

PORTLAND — Gonzaga has been the bully on the West Coast Conference men’s basketball block for quite some time.

Someone forgot to tell the Portland Pilots on Thursday night at the Chiles Center.

Bryce Pressley had 16 points and nine assists, and the scrappy Pilots beat the 22nd-ranked Zags, 82-73, on Thursday night, snapping Portland’s 20-game losing streak in the series between the two teams.

The loss also snapped Gonzaga’s 22-game winning streak in West Coast Conference games.

The last time Portland (10-7, 2-3 WCC) beat Gonzaga at home was in 1996, and the Pilots’ last victory in the series came in 2003 in Spokane. Portland had not defeated a ranked opponent since 2009 against then-No. 22 Minnesota.

Gonzaga (14-3, 4-1) had won four in a row to open the conference season after a 72-62 loss to Kansas State on Dec. 21. Playing in their first conference game away from home, the Bulldogs were coming off an 86-54 victory over Pacific on Saturday. The Zags won their first four conference games by an average margin of victory of 21.5 points, and they had held their previous six opponents to fewer than 62 points.

However, the Pilots were determined from the start, stretching their lead to 17 points in the second half.

When 7-foot-1 Zags center Przemek Zarnowski was forced to the bench after picking up his second and third fouls in a 33-second span, the Pilots went to work inside. The result was a 14-2 run — sparked by six points from center Thomas van der Mars. The lead was 53-37 on Kevin Bailey’s falling-down jumper and a free throw with 13:46 left. Gonzaga was held scoreless for a stretch of 3:23 during the Pilots’ run.

Gerard Coleman’s layup and two free throws narrowed it to 76-65 for the Bulldogs before Drew Barham’s layup made it 78-71 with 1:05 left. But Portland held off the Zags as time wound down, and the Pilots’ purple-clad fans rushed the court in celebration.

Alec Wintering had 14 points for the Pilots, and Bailey added 13.

Sam Dower Jr. led Gonzaga with 14 points off the bench.

The Pilots were coming off a 72-63 loss to Saint Mary’s. The game against Gonzaga wrapped up a five-game conference homestand for the Pilots.

Portland is 7-54 all time against ranked opponents. Earlier this season the Pilots fell, 82-67, at then-No. 1 Michigan State.

Portland jumped out to an early 11-5 lead, paced by Bailey with six points, but Kevin Pangos hit a 3-pointer and Angel Nunez dunked to narrow it for the Zags.

It was as close as they could get, and Portland stretched the lead to 20-13 after a pair of free throws from Bailey. With all the momentum on their side, the Pilots pushed the lead to 30-19 after Pressley’s layup.

The Zags looked as if they were caught off guard by Portland’s energy and trailed 39-31 at halftime.

Gonzaga remains without former Kentridge High School standout Gary Bell, who broke his hand against Santa Clara on Dec. 28 and is expected to be out up to six weeks.

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