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Two ‘W's' were on the line Wednesday night when Gonzaga faced the University of Portland Pilots. Those ‘W's' were a WCC championship and a win. Gonzaga got neither. However, the Bulldogs' performance might remind fans of another ‘w;' that being woeful. The Pilots came into the Kennel as the last-place team in the WCC, with a 2-9 league record. The Zags came in with an opportunity to cut down the nets in front of their fans. The Pilots turned the tide on Gonzaga and escaped the infamous Kennel with a 72-68 victory.
The Pilots never trailed; from the opening tip to the final buzzer. The closest the Zags got was when Ronny Turiaf tied the game at 2-2. Turiaf would be the reason Gonzaga would remain in the hunt. With Blake Stepp slowed by a nasty flu virus, the Zags needed all the Ronny they could get. The Pilots shot themselves into a 31-15 lead on 56% shooting, while the Bulldogs shot a miserable 30% from the floor. It seemed as if a lid had been placed over the basket, as fans watched Gonzaga blow shots right under the basket. Turiaf would be the answer for the Zags, scoring 9 points on a 13-5 run. He brought the silent Bulldog fans back to life on a steal that resulted in a slam that showcased just what an athlete Ronny is. The run cut the Pilots' lead to 36-28 at the half. Gonzaga had been in this position before, trailing most of the game against the Eastern Washington Eagles at the Spokane Arena, just to come back to win. So, this wasn't too much to worry about, was it?
Portland continued its sensational shooting whilst Gonzaga continued to not find the rim. The Pilots' lead returned to 14 points less than two minutes into the second half. The remainder of the game formed a pattern: Gonzaga would make a run, just to let UP push their lead back to double figures. The first of these runs was capped by a nifty Gourde reverse lay up off a loose ball plus the free throw and a Tony Skinner three to cut the Pilots' lead at 44-40. However, Portland would answer to push their lead to a 13 point advantage. Stepp hit a trey, but the Pilots responded by scoring the next six points. Trailing 60-44 with less than eight minutes remaining, Gonzaga needed another surge and to not allow the Pilots to recover. It appeared as though the Zags might have it in them. Blake Stepp returned from the "dead" and played through his illness. Two free throws by Turiaf, who was 13-16 from the line, a Stepp three, and Blake's lob to Turiaf pulled the Zags within three points with 2 minutes left on the clock. The Kennel, whose vocal cords were absent for the majority of the game, turned into a frenzy as Ronny signaled them for more. Gonzaga created a turnover and had the opportunity to tie the game with a trey. Stepp's attempted pass to a posting Turiaf was picked off by Eugene Jeter. Jeter was fouled by Kyle Bankhead while scoring on a lay-up. Eugene went to the line and sunk the charity shot to make it a 5 point game. With only ticks left on the clock, Stepp sank a three to make it a 70-68 game. With only three seconds remaining, Gonzaga was forced to foul. Adam Quick was fouled and dropped in both charity shots to ice the game.
Portland played the entire game as if it were the last six minutes, while Gonzaga only played the last six minutes. Most of the team didn't seem to mentally show up, nor did some of the fans. A few bald spots could be found in the Kennel and, when the Zags needed them most, the fans didn't make a sound. The loss snapped a 21-game win streak at home against conference opponents. It may have also snapped any hopes of an at-large bid for the Zags, should they not win the WCC Tournament Championship. Gonzaga finished the game shooting a meager 34% from the field in contrast to Portland's 49%.
It will be Senior Night on Saturday as Gonzaga plays its final home game of the season versus Tulsa University. Fans will be bidding farewell to seniors Zach Gourde and Winston Brooks. The game is part of ESPN's Bracket Buster and Gonzaga is asking fans to "Paint the Kennel Red" as they say goodbye to two seniors.