Gonzaga still top dogs in WCC

By The Beacon | January 31, 2012 9:00pm

(Ian Hilger | The Beacon)

By Kyle Cape-Lindelin, Staff Writer -- capelind13@up.edu

In what is becoming a rebuilding year for the men's basketball program, the young Pilots (5-16, 2-6 WCC) showed fans what could be in the coming years against their rival Gonzaga. However, Gonzaga (17-3, 7-1) flexed their muscles in the second half to prove why they still own first place in the WCC conference with a 74-62 win.

In front of a sold-out Chiles Center with many Gonzaga fans present, the Pilots clenched down on the Bulldogs defensively in the first half, holding them to 31 percent shooting and 0-for-7 from three point range, giving the Pilots a 29-25 lead at halftime.

"This one is always big," sophomore forward Ryan Nicholas said. "The first half is how we always have to play, but we made lapses at the wrong moments and you can't do that against those guys."

Nicholas led the way for the Pilots with his hustle and strong post defense on his way to his fourth double-double of the season with 13 points and 10 rebounds. However, none of those points came in the second half when Gonzaga went on 8-0, 15-5 and 9-0 runs to steal the win out of the Pilots hands.

"We gave them nothing easy tonight and that's what I take most pride from as a coach," Head Coach Eric Reveno said. "We weren't going to match their height or athletic ability – we had to out-strategize and give more effort than they did. To their credit, they came out of halftime and responded."

Gonzaga not only came out scorching hot from the field with 68 percent shooting, they also stepped up on defense, forcing UP into pull-up jumpers and holding the Pilots to 41 percent shooting. The Bulldogs also began taking advantage of their near 7-foot post players senior Robert Sacre and junior Elias Harris as they dominated the paint 44-22.

"They really took advantage of their size in the second half, how they dominated the paint is a really telling sign," Reveno said. "By doing that, they opened up their shooters and kept our defense off balance."

Despite their heavy rivalry, Gonzaga Head Coach Mark Few was sure to give credit to his adversary.

"I was out-coached in the first half," Few said. "They're young, but very well coached and they'll be dangerous in the next couple of years."

Youth is something the Pilots will deal with as the season continues. With only two seniors on the team – Eric Waterford (who is out with a knee injury) and Nemanja Mitrovic – the Pilots must use their youth and energy to their advantage.

"We can't really use our youth as an excuse," Waterford said. "We're playing good and we're playing hard, we just need to keep doing the little things to get some of these wins."

UP's loss to Gonzaga makes it 18 straight losses to the Bulldogs, a streak that stretches back to 2003. Despite the clear fact, the team has not accepted losing to their rivals and still considers this one of the biggest games of the season.

"We're going to beat these guys one of these times," Nicholas said. "We as a team know we're capable and believe it. We just need to put it all together for a full 40 minutes. Gonzaga is never going to just let you beat them."