Everyone expects upsets, even though they are by definition not supposed to be expected. So, you might have expected Portland to upset Saint Mary's but there's no way you expected them to run a defensive clinic on the Gaels.
"Plan A," Portland head coach Eric Reveno said, "was guard the hell out of 'em."
Reveno spent the first half reinforcing that plan with his bigs from the sidelines, telling them to hold their ground on defense whenever Brad Waldow got a post touch. They listened, and held Waldow (19.1 ppg, 56.3% FG) to just 7 points on 3-7 shooting. With Thomas van der Mars and Volodymyr Gerun blanketing Waldow the Gaels were forced to look elsewhere for offense.
They struggled to find it and committed two shot clock violations and forced a few late-clock shots during the first half.
Kerry Carter was everywhere for the Gaels early, especially on defense. The first team all-WCC senior had three steals in the first half which led to four points including a nice drive and dish to a trailing Aaron Bright for an easy lay-up. When the Gaels had to face the Pilots defense in the half-court, however, they just couldn't score.
The Pilots had no problem taking the Gaels five-on-five. Eric Reveno brought senior forward Volodymyr Gerun off the bench for the first time all season, going with Thomas van der Mars as his one true post player. The two traded places often, which kept them fresh against Brad Waldow.
The Pilots finished the first half shooting at a 50% clip compared to the Gaels meager 30.4%. But since the Pilots, who do about a third of their scoring from behind the arc, didn't connect from deep until late in the half, it was a close game throughout.
Saint Mary's had played blistering offense against Portland in the second half of both previous meetings this season. Today was a different story. The Pilots half court defense remained strong.
Brad Waldow got going, and finished with 25 points on 8-14 shooting, but nobody else could. The rest of the Gaels shot a paltry 5-29 from the field.
Between the 14:30 and 11:50 marks in the second half Waldow scored nine straight points for Saint Mary's which cut the Pilots lead to just two points. He would go on to score the Gaels' next seven points as well, but that took nearly ten minutes as Portland employed a trap that the Gaels' guards could not handle.
Portland's defense stopped the Gaels, but their offense was what opened the game up.
Four Pilots scored in double-figures, led by Kevin Bailey's 16. Freshman Jason Todd added 14 points in his first postseason game. Thomas van der Mars and D'Marques Tyson chipped in 10 each. Portland shot 50% from the field for the game and scored at a rate of 1.17 points per possession
While the Gaels are now likely NIT bound, Portland will advance to face BYU in the semis on Monday. Before today's dismantling of Saint Mary's, Portland would have been given no chance against the high-octane Cougars. But now, after seeing the Pilots completely eliminate the Gaels' four perimeter players from the game, they might have a shot against BYU's guard-heavy attack.