PULLMAN – The Washington State Cougars improved their home record to 5-0 Saturday, but the Cougars likely will need to make wholesale improvements in their game if they intend to be 6-0 at Beasley Coliseum after Wednesday.
The Cougars tuned up for their showdown with 12th-ranked, undefeated Gonzaga by downing Portland, 72-60. Approximately 9,300 tickets have been sold for Wednesday’s game with the Bulldogs (8 p.m., ESPNU).
“They’re a great team,” WSU star Brock Motum said. “It’ll be a great challenge. We’re looking forward to it.”
The Bulldogs and Pilots play in the West Coast Conference, but the two teams are worlds apart in talent, size and experience. Still, Portland twice pulled to six points behind early in the second half before Motum buried the Pilots by pouring in 17 of his season-high 29 points after halftime.
Gonzaga (8-0) was ranked fourth among 347 NCAA Division I teams in the Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings prior to Saturday’s 85-67 rout of Pacific (Calif.). The top-rated team WSU (5-3) has defeated is No. 179 Idaho.
Portland (3-4) was rated 224th, and that might be generous. The Pilots shot 36 percent from the field Saturday, and they were outrebounded 45-27. Only a barrage of 3-pointers (11 for 25) by the Pilots kept the score respectable.
“We’ve done a good job defensively this year,” WSU coach Ken Bone said.
The Cougars snapped an 8-8 tie with a 19-3 run in which Portland made one basket over a span of nearly 9 minutes. WSU led 43-33 at the half before 4,513 fans.
Motum, on pace to finish in the top 10 on Washington State’s career scoring list, moved up to 21st with 1,084 points. He sank 10 of 20 shots despite a slow start.
“I was just lucky that my teammates found me in great spots,” Motum said.
“He earned those (points),” Bone said. “A couple times, I thought he got banged around pretty good.”
Royce Woolridge, the sophomore transfer from Kanas, recorded career highs of 20 points and seven rebounds. He shares point guard duties with Mike Ladd, and neither had a turnover.
Junior forward Ryan Nicholas, who starred at Gonzaga Prep in Spokane, led Portland with 17 points, and nine rebounds.