Though Gonzaga's quest for yet another West Coast Conference title may not face much of a challenge, the 23rd-ranked Bulldogs will likely have plenty of motivation Wednesday night as they try to avenge their lone blemish in league play against visiting Portland.
Gonzaga (20-3, 10-1) has captured at least a share of the league's regular-season crown in 12 of coach Mark Few's 14 years at the helm. With a three-game edge for first place with eight contests remaining, Few is well on the way to another championship.The Pilots ended the Bulldogs' 22-game conference winning streak with an 82-73 home victory Jan. 9, marking the then-No. 22 Zags' first WCC loss since Feb. 18, 2012, and knocking them out of the rankings. Portland shot 51.9 percent from the field, including 8 of 14 from 3-point range, to end a 20-game skid against the Bulldogs.Without top 3-point shooter Gary Bell Jr., Gonzaga was dragged down by a 4-for-15 performance from long distance.The Bulldogs have used the free-throw line to neutralize subpar offensive showings recently. They shot 38.8 percent from the field in a 75-65 win at San Francisco on Saturday but were 34 of 41 from the foul line, including 11 of 12 in the final 1:31. Gonzaga shot 34.8 percent in a 54-52 win at Santa Clara last Wednesday but made 17 of 19 free-throw attempts.Gonzaga is 76 for 90 from the line over its last five games (84.4 percent). The Bulldogs were shooting 68.9 percent through their first 18 games, the third-lowest mark in the conference.Sam Dower scored 24 points against San Francisco and was 12 for 13 from the foul line, one of six Bulldogs to attempt at least four free throws."A lot of that was they fouled so much down the stretch, but they fouled guys who they thought were the right guys," said Few, who has reached the 20-win mark in each season with Gonzaga. "David (Stockton) stepped up and made huge free throw after free throw, Przemek (Karnowski) shot well and Sam is a good free-throw shooter. We want him to get fouled."Dower's 87.2 free-throw percentage ranks fourth in the conference, while Kevin Pangos is among the national leaders at 89.5 percent. Pangos, scoring a team-high 15.4 points per game, is averaging 10.2 over his last five while shooting 35.3 percent. He was 3 of 10 from the field with 12 points last month in Portland.Bell has since returned from a six-game absence due to a broken hand and is 6 for 13 from 3-point range over his last three contests.The Pilots (13-10, 5-6) had dropped three of four prior to a 76-64 victory at Santa Clara on Saturday. Thomas van der Mars scored a career-high 28, going 9 of 10 from the field and making all 10 of his free-throw attempts. He had totaled six points over his previous two games after scoring 27 against BYU on Jan. 23.Van der Mars had 11 points in the first meeting with Gonzaga, one of five Pilots to score at least that many with Bryce Pressley's 16 leading the way.Dower was 7 of 13 with 14 points while playing only 24 minutes off the bench.