No. 8 Gonzaga walks tightrope home to face Portland

Gonzaga is winning — that part is nothing new. The unfamiliar part of this season for the Bulldogs has been the path to victory.

The No. 8 Bulldogs (15-3 overall, 4-0 West Coast Conference) return home to Spokane, Wash. and host Portland (9-10, 1-3) on Saturday night after a harrowing three-game trip they swept by a combined eight points.

Thursday at BYU was the latest tightrope-turned-triumph. The Zags rallied from a 10-point deficit in the final 5:03. Julian Strawther made a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 9.8 seconds left to lift Gonzaga to a 75-74 victory.

“That’s the glory of having all these tough shot-makers,” said Strawther, who finished with 11 points. “Every time we need a big shot or a big 3, somebody steps up and knocks it down.”

Last Saturday, Nolan Hickman made a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:13 left in an 81-76 victory at Santa Clara, as the Zags rallied from a 14-point, first-half deficit.

And on Jan. 5, Rasir Bolton made a putback with eight seconds left in a 77-75 victory at San Francisco. The Zags led for just 1:39 in that game and trailed by as many as 12 points.

“The mental strength of this team is strong, and it shows,” said Gonzaga forward Anton Watson, who scored a season-high 18 points against BYU. “It’s definitely going to help us in the future, but I think there’s times where it’s like, ‘Hey, let’s just win the game. Let’s keep the lead.'”

Drew Timme added 19 points and 13 rebounds Thursday as the Zags overcame 34.5 percent shooting in the second half.

“It’s kind of ingrained in our program,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “When you’re in this program you expect to win. Hopefully, they’re learning how to win like all our other groups have. I don’t think they ever count themselves out.”

Portland posted its first conference victory of the season Thursday, defeating visiting San Francisco 92-87. Tyler Robertson scored 23 points and had five assists.

Kristian Sjolund added 21 points, going 11-for-11 from the free-throw line, and grabbed 12 rebounds for the Pilots, who snapped a five-game losing streak. Moses Wood scored 20 points, making 4 of 7 shots from 3-point range.

Juan Sebastian Gorosito’s 3-pointer with 1:19 left gave Portland the lead for good.

“They can play against anyone,” Portland coach Shantay Legans proudly said of his team.

The trip to Spokane will be a homecoming of sorts for Legans, who previously coached at Eastern Washington in nearby Cheney, Wash.

It won’t be easy for the Pilots, who have lost their past 14 meetings with GU.

And Gonzaga puts the nation’s longest active home streak on the line. It stands at 74 in a row at the McCarthey Athletic Center, which is also the most in the modern era of NCAA Division I (since 1985). The Zags’ last loss at home was a 74-71 setback to Saint Mary’s on Jan. 18, 2018.

–Field Level Media

FLM Direct-Baller

Field Level Media was founded by sports media executives with more than 40 years of combined experience working with the most influential media companies in the industry.

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