The 2011 portion of the 2011-12 season couldn't have gone much worse for Portland. In non-conference games, they went a painful 3-10, with one of those wins against a D-III school. Last Wednesday, they closed out 2011 and began West Coast Conference play with a 90-51 loss at Gonzaga. The only home game they won was against the above mentioned non-DI team. The losses weren't all that close for the most part, either. Still, the guys kept working hard in every game no matter the score.
Despite their record I was still excited to see the start of the WCC season. I was sure there would be a point in the season where everything would come together for the Pilots, and the 2012 half of the season would be better than the games in 2011. I thought Portland would have a tough, but not impossible task against Santa Clara, a team with a few good players but a definite step below the likes of Gonzaga, St. Mary's, and BYU.
Like I said, I was sure the Pilots would get it together in 2012. I did not think things would come together so well in the very first game of 2012. From the outset, the Pilots played with an intensity I hadn't seen before, or at least wasn't able to see among the blowout losses. They outworked the Broncos for rebounds and loose balls. They patiently moved the ball around, looking for the right opportunity. They drove to the basket and were able to find the open man, who oftentimes made the shot. This was all quite a turnaround from the Pilots of November and December, who looked to me like they were trying too hard and playing tight. Tonight the team trusted each other, instead of individual players feeling like they had to do it all. The fans greatly enjoyed watching the lead grow until the score was 44-27 at halftime. After the way the season had started, they were waiting for something to cheer about, and now they had it.
There was still plenty of basketball left, of course. The second half started with Portland having trouble making the easy shots that were falling in the first half. They started making careless turnovers as well, and the Santa Clara deficit crept down to 12. Instead of collapsing, the Pilots kept calm and maintained a comfortable lead most of the rest of the game. The Broncos were able to close within seven in the last minute on a three-pointer by Brandon Clark. However, Clark elbowed Portland's Tim Douglas just before putting up the shot. A Santa Clara timeout immediately after Clark's basket allowed the officials to review the play, charge Clark with a foul, and give Portland two free throws and the ball, putting an end to any comeback bid.
(The above sequence illustrates a loophole in the rules that I hope will be closed soon. If Clark's foul is correctly called when it happens, he never gets to attempt a shot. Since the officials had to go back and review the play, the foul is called and Portland gets the ball, but the points Clark scored after the foul still count.)
In the end, Portland earned a very nice 84-74 win, evened its WCC record at 1-1, ended a seven-game losing streak, and showed what they can do when all the pieces come together. Portland still has work to do and some tough games ahead, but as of now the record shows they're undefeated in 2012.
at PORTLAND 84, SANTA CLARA 74 01/05/2012
SANTA CLARA 8-6 (0-1) -- K. Foster 4-14 1-2 12; E. Roquemore 5-16 4-6 15; N. Harrison 6-13 7-8 19; B. Clark 5-8 5-6 16; R. Cowels III 2-2 0-1 5; J. McArthur 1-5 1-3 3; J. Akwenuke 1-1 0-0 2; Y. Atanga 0-3 0-0 0; J. Clarke 0-1 0-0 0; D. Johnson 0-1 0-0 0; R. Garrett 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 25-65 18-26 74. PORTLAND 4-11 (1-1) -- R. Nicholas 6-9 7-8 19; N. Mitrovic 2-10 6-6 11; T. Douglas 2-6 7-8 11; K. Bailey 3-5 2-2 9; D. Carr 4-6 1-1 11; D. Cason 0-1 0-0 0; T. van der Mars 4-7 2-2 10; D. Rodgers 2-3 2-6 6; J. Bailey 3-4 1-2 7. Totals 26-51 28-35 84.
Three-point goals: SCL 6-17 (K. Foster 3-8; R. Cowels 1-1; J. Clarke 0-1; E. Roquemore 1-4; B. Clark 1-3), PORT 4-11 (N. Mitrovic 1-5; K. Bailey 1-1; D. Carr 2-4; D. Cason 0-1); Rebounds: SCL 25 (N. Harrison 5), PORT 43 (R. Nicholas 11); Assists: SCL 11 (B. Clark 5), PORT 17 (T. Douglas 8); Total Fouls -- SCL 24, PORT 21; Fouled Out: SCL-None; PORT-None.