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3 thoughts from West Coast Conference Thursday: Did Portland reveal how to beat San Diego?

The WCC’s top four teams continued to separate from the pack.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at San Diego
San Diego head coach Lamont Smith.
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Didn’t want to stay up late to take in a full slate of West Coast Conference weeknight action? Well, that’s a shame. Don’t worry though, we’ll get you all caught up anyway. Here are last night’s scores, the league standings and three thoughts on everything that went down Thursday night.

Saint Mary’s Gaels 74, Pacific Tigers 56
Santa Clara Broncos 65, Loyola Marymount Lions 49
San Diego Toreros 81, Portland Pilots 74 (OT)
No. 19 Gonzaga Bulldogs 89, Pepperdine Waves 59
BYU Cougars 69, San Francisco Dons 59

Did Portland just draw the blueprint for playing USD?

This was supposed to be a clash of styles. Portland came in averaging 9.5 made three pointers per game and shooting 40.2 percent from downtown. San Diego holds opponents below 25 percent from long range and owns the nation’s best three-point defense. Teams don’t get good looks against the Toreros.

But the trigger-happy Pilots were the exact opposite Thursday night. They took just nine threes all game and only made one. But that one make came with 12 seconds to play and forced overtime.

Terry Porter’s team spent the first 40 minutes relentlessly pounding the ball inside. Perhaps Porter saw an Achilles’ heel in the Toreros, because not only did they score 36 points in the paint but they drew fouls at a high rate. USD’s two-point percentage defense ranked No. 14 in the nation per KenPom, which is really good but not quite as daunting as their top-rated three point defense. Even more, star transfers Isaiah Wright (30 points) and Isaiah Pineiro (eight points) have been foul prone all year long. Thursday, both fouled out well before the overtime period. They’ve combined for seven disqualifications this season.

In the end, it wasn’t enough and the Toreros escaped with an 81-74 victory. But give credit to Porter and the Pilots for being fearless enough to abandon their identity and attack the the Toreros where they are weakest. You’ve got to imagine teams around the WCC will take note.

Zags’ defensive resurgence rolls on against Waves

First of all, Gonzaga’s now won 34 straight against Pepperdine. It’s a streak dating back to Feb. 16, 2002 and is two months older than Julian Strawther, a five star class of 2020 small forward with an offer from Gonzaga. It’s a streak that is absurd.

While the Zags defeating the Waves might not be noteworthy at this point, their defensive performance certainly was. After three straight sub-par performances on that end of the court to close out non-conference play, the Zags have rattled off their three most efficient games of the season.

Last week, they held both Pacific and Santa Clara to just 0.76 points per possession — a tie for the Zags’ season-best. Thursday in Malibu, they held the Waves to 0.81 points per possession, their second best mark of the year.

BYU bounces back to stay in the race

After an overtime loss to league-leading Saint Mary’s last weekend in Provo, the Cougars found themselves in an unenviable position just a week into the conference season: off the pace.

San Francisco, picked to finish fourth in the WCC, was coming off a disappointing non-conference slate and looking for a signature win early in league play. Unfortunately for the Dons, they tried to get that win against the Cougars. And the Cougars have never lost a league game in War Memorial Gymnasium.

The Dons kept it close, and even led with 7:29 to play, but just didn’t have enough. Yoeli Childs scored nine of his 13 points in the second half to help put the Dons away.

BYU’s still off the pace but the Cougars aren’t out of it yet. San Francisco, on the other hand...