In Portland, the Pilots got off to a hot shooting start in the first half and raced out to a surprising 36-27 lead. But the Waves, no strangers to first-half deficits during their win streak, surged back to get within 40-38 at the break.
As it turned out, that was just the beginning of a 38-16 streak that put the Waves ahead 65-52 and gave them seeming control of the game. But Portland wasn't done yet, riding the hot hand of Casey Frandsen to get back within 73-69. Clutch free throw shooting by the Waves averted the disaster of losing to the last-place team in the WCC.
Devin Montgomery added 20 points for the Waves, and Terrance Johnson 12. Cedric Suitt blocked four shots and pulled down eight rebounds. Frandsen, the conference's third-leading scorer, did his part for the Pilots with 28 points. Coky Rochin, one of just two WCC players averaging a double-double, played just 14 minutes and was not a factor.
In Spokane, the Zags shook off a sluggish first half, at the end of which they led just 30-26, to notch a 72-51 win over the Lions behind 23 points from WCC scoring leader Dan Dickau and 17 points and 15 rebounds from Cory Violette.
So now it's on to the important business for both teams.
The significance of Saturday night's showdown cannot be overstated, and is measurable in a number of ways. With a win, the Waves (18-6, 11-0) would clinch the regular-season title and be in position to complete the first undefeated WCC season since they did it ten seasons ago.
A win by Gonzaga (22-3, 10-1) would pull them into a tie for first place with the Waves – meaning that barring an upset during the final week, the regular season champion would come down to a coin flip.
Adding to the significance is that Gonzaga has achieved the highest ranking any WCC has ever held, #8 in the nation; that the Waves hold the nation's longest current winning streak at 13; and that ESPN2 will air the game in an extremely rare regular season national telecast.
It could certainly be argued that it is the most important game in WCC history. But only because the Waves and Zags held off challenges from two teams that would have liked nothing better than to ruin the nationally televised party.