Gonzaga star Chet Holmgren is starting to play like someone expected to be one of the first few selections of the next NBA draft.
The 7-foot freshman seeks his third straight 20-point outing when the second-ranked Bulldogs face Portland (11-9, 2-3 WCC) on Saturday night in West Coast Conference play at Spokane, Wash.
Holmgren scored a career-best 22 points in a 78-62 win over San Francisco on Jan. 20 and followed up with 21 in Thursday’s 89-55 rout of Loyola Marymount. Holmgren made 14 of 18 shots in the two contests, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range, for the Bulldogs (16-2, 5-0).
Holmgren scored 14 of his 21 points in the second half against Loyola Marymount as Gonzaga won its ninth straight game. Bulldogs coach Mark Few noted the rise in intensity after a first-half blow left Holmgren with a cut above the left eyebrow that required stitches.
“I don’t know if getting hit in the eye got him ticked off or what, but he came back out especially in that second half with a vengeance,” Few said. “He’s shooting the ball extremely well from 3, so obviously that’s huge.
“I liked how he had the fortitude to take a couple hits with guys collapsing down on him. He delivered a couple times inside, which he hasn’t been doing prior to this.”
Holmgren, who also had nine rebounds and three blocked shots against the Lions, has scored 18 or more points in four of the past seven games to increase his scoring average to 14.1. He is shooting 63.2 percent from the field for a team that leads the nation in scoring at 90.1 per game.
“We’ve got five people on the floor who can score at all times,” Holmgren said. “Everybody is a threat.”
Holmgren leads Gonzaga in rebounding (8.6 per game) and blocked shots (61) and has settled in as the team’s second-best player behind All-American forward Drew Timme (team-best 18.2 points per game).
The Bulldogs will be looking to stretch their national-best home-court winning streak to 64 on Saturday.
Gonzaga has beaten Portland 13 straight times and 47 of the past 49 meetings.
But first-year Pilots coach Shantay Legans promises his team will not be intimidated.
“We’re going to go to Spokane and play one of our best games, I believe,” Legans said. “I think we’ll do everything we can to win a game.
“They have to put on shorts, shoes, socks, everything, just like us. They have more size right now but as we keep moving forward, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Legans took Eastern Washington into “The Kennel” two seasons ago and it wasn’t an enjoyable time. The Bulldogs whipped his now-former club 112-77.
The Pilots are coming off Thursday’s 64-56 victory over Pacific, which was their first home game in 41 days. A COVID-19 outbreak affected the slate and Portland ended up playing six straight road games, including four to start WCC play.
Chris Austin leads Portland with a 14.5 scoring average. Moses Wood (14.2), Tyler Robertson (13.9) and Mike Meadows (10.7) also score in double figures. Wood scored a team-best 19 against Pacific.
–Field Level Media