Entering Thursday night’s game against No. 22 Gonzaga, the Portland Pilots were faced with two ugly losing streaks. One of the streaks was the Pilots’ 20-game losing streak in the series, with their last victory coming all the way back on February 19, 2003. The other streak was even more unfathomable, as Gonzaga had won the last 17 games in the series played on Portland’s home court. It’s one thing for that to happen in Spokane, but with the Bulldogs being so dominant in the series as the road team the chances of a Portland victory didn’t look to be good at all.
But that wouldn’t be the case on Thursday, as Portland never trailed and led by as many as 17 points in an 82-73 victory that in all honesty was only that close due to a late rally by the Bulldogs. Portland executed well offensively, sharing the basketball (16 assists on 27 made field goals) and shooting 52% from the field.
And it was a team effort as well, with Bryce Pressley leading five Pilots in double figures with 16 points to go along with nine assists. And while he didn’t reach double figures in the scoring department forward Ryan Nicholas added nine rebounds to go along with the eight points he scored.
Defensively Portland limited Kevin Pangos to 12 points on 3-for-10 shooting, and with Gary Bell Jr. (broken hand) out of the lineup the Bulldogs’ margin of error is slim offensively when Pangos is off the mark. Gonzaga shooting just 4-for-15 from beyond the arc also impacted the outcome, but this result was more about how well Portland played and their impact on the Bulldogs than anything Gonzaga didn’t do.
From an NCAA tournament standpoint Thursday’s results may have hurt the WCC’s chances of sending multiple teams, with Santa Clara knocking off Saint Mary’s in Moraga being the other outcome of note. But there’s still nearly two months of basketball to be played before the conference tournament in Las Vegas, and if anything those games reveal just how wide-open the title race could potentially be.
Where does Portland fit into the equation? For a team that took more than its fair share of lumps over the last two seasons, that question will likely be answered by the way in which they handle this success. Next up are road games against Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine, and those are two tough challenges for the Pilots.
Thursday night represented a significant challenge and Portland rose to the challenge, and the win is a big one for Coach Reveno and his program. How valuable can this result be when it comes to the direction of the Portland program? That will depend on the Pilots, and whether or not they can build on this historic achievement.