By Anne M. Peterson Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. — A bit of foul trouble for 7-foot center Kelly Olynyk didn’t faze Gonzaga.
The eighth-ranked Bulldogs pitched in for the West Coast Conference’s top scorer when he collected two fouls in the first half against the Portland Pilots.
Olynyk came back strong in the second half, finishing with 21 points and eight rebounds in Gonzaga’s 71-49 victory Thursday night.
“It happens to everyone,” Olynyk shrugged. “You never want to be in foul trouble but you’ve got to play through it. That’s why you have a team of 12.”
Olynyk had just one basket and played only 6 minutes in the first half. The rocky start came after two straight games with more than 30 points.
“They have the No. 1 frontcourt in the country,” Portland coach Eric Reveno said. “We forced them to go to Plan B, and their Plan B is almost as good as Plan A.”
Kevin Pangos added 14 points, including four 3-pointers, for Gonzaga (17-1, 4-0 WCC), as the Bulldogs extended the best start in school history with an eight-game winning streak.
Kevin Bailey had 16 points for the Pilots (8-11, 1-3) who trailed by as many as 21 points and dropped their 19th straight game in the series with the Zags.
The Bulldogs have not lost since falling 85-74 to then-No. 13 Illinois on Dec. 8 in Spokane. They were coming off an 83-78 victory over St. Mary’s on Saturday, which pulled them up a spot in the AP Top 25, the team’s highest ranking since Dec. 22, 2008, when they were No. 7.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few was asked if this Gonzaga team is the best he’s coached — a tall order for someone who has taken the Bulldogs to the NCAA tournament the past 13 seasons.
“That’s yet to be determined,” he said.
Bulldogs guard David Stockton, who has seen his share of basketball as the son of Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer John Stockton, believes the sky’s the limit.
“We have to focus — day in and day out — but we can go as far as we want to go,” he said.
The Pilots were coming off a 68-64 victory over Loyola Marymount last Saturday in Los Angeles. The win snapped a three-game losing streak.
Three consecutive 3-pointers and a layup from Pangos put Gonzaga up 14-2 at the sold-out Chiles Center.
But Portland closed in, coming within 16-10 after David Ahern’s jumper. Ahern, a freshman walk-on from Northern California, was playing in just his second game for the Pilots. Portland starting point guard Davis Carr is out for the season after tearing a ligament in his right knee in a loss to Pepperdine on Jan. 5.
Guy Landry Edi made a 3-pointer that put the Bulldogs up 23-10 midway through the first half.
But the Pilots closed in again, pulling to 31-26 after Ryan Nicholas’ 3-pointer and Bailey’s running jumper. It was as close as Portland could come, and the Zags led 36-26 at halftime.
Pangos led all first-half scorers with 11 points, including his three 3-pointers, and Gonzaga was 8 of 15 from beyond the arc. The Bulldogs made nine of 21 3-point attempts for the game.
Gonzaga began to pull away in the second half, going ahead 51-36 after Elias Harris had consecutive dunks. The Pilots simply couldn’t keep up with the taller and faster Zags.
Olynyk’s dunk gave Gonzaga a 58-44 lead with just more than 9 minutes left. Edi dunked for the final margin.
“We were not in a position to beat the 8th-best team in the country,” Reveno said, “but there’s no shame in that.”
Olynyk was the first Gonzaga player with consecutive 30-point games since Adam Morrison in 2006. He went into Thursday night’s game averaging 18.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.
Portland’s last victory over Gonzaga came in 2003, when the Pilots won 72-68 in Spokane.