Bouncing Back

By The Beacon | January 26, 2011 9:00pm

The Pilots face San Diego and No. 25 St. Mary’s after dropping three on the road

(UP Athletics)

By Bruce Garlinghouse, Staff Writer --

The men's basketball team didn't have the luxury of playing in a warm-up game to ease them into conference play.

The Pilots faced WCC powerhouse Gonzaga in their conference opener at the McCarthy Athletic Center in Spokane. The Bulldogs extended their record in the MAC to 83-5 after beating the Pilots 74-61 despite a Pilots' second half comeback that cut the lead to three with 7:15 remaining.

The Pilots then returned to Chiles and responded with wins over Pepperdine and then Loyola Marymount in a double OT thriller.

But their road struggles continued as they dropped two more conference games to a talented offense in San Francisco and a surprise Santa Clara team that took down Gonzaga earlier in the week.

"It's not the outcome we would have liked," senior Luke Sikma said. "But we can learn a lot from the losses."

Head Coach Eric Reveno hinted in a tweet after the loss to San Francisco that the Pilots' road struggles stem from the defensive end.

He tweeted "USF had their best offense game of year last night against us. We had our best offensive game of WCC play. Need stops."

The Pilots are 2-9 on the road and allow an average of 80.6 points a game, 20 points more than the average of 60.6 points they allow in the Chiles Center where they are undefeated this season.

"We haven't been able to put a consistent defensive performance together," Reveno said. "We've been playing from behind teams that are playing well."

But their road struggles aren't only on the defensive end.

Against Gonzaga the Pilots had 20 turnovers, the most all season. And against Loyola Marymount, they let the Lions back in the game after careless turnovers and poor shot selection late in the second half.

The Pilots face a weak San Diego (4-16) team Thursday at home, but then face No. 25 St. Mary's and Gonzaga the following two games.

Despite playing at home and facing a Gonzaga team that has struggled at times, both meetings will prove to be true tests for the Pilots.

Reveno said he doesn't think wins against St. Mary's and Gonzaga are a must and wants to see the team play well.

"If we play well, we have enough talent to win the game," Reveno said.

St. Mary's and Gonzaga are among four teams, including Portland, in the WCC that are ranked in the RPI top 100 this year.

The Pilots are ranked No. 56 in the RPI, which currently gives them a good shot at the NCAA Tournament.

"We're aware of it," Sikma said. "But we've got a ways to go before we get there so we're just going to focus on right now."