Back with the game story from Sunday night’s rugby scrum, er, basketball game. Gonzaga battled past Loyola Marymount 77-62 to advance to the WCC Tournament title game.
My unedited game story is below. Saint Mary’s is leading by 22 with about 3 minutes left, so that will set up the third showdown between the Gaels and Bulldogs.
Check back tomorrow for a day-after post.
By Jim Meehan
firstname.lastname@example.org; (208) 765-7131
High-pressure games, physical, grinding, hard fouls, floor burns. Hard-fought wins, season-altering losses.
Top-seeded Gonzaga marched on Sunday night, setting the tone early and then quelling a Loyola Marymount comeback to claim a 77-62 victory in the West Coast Conference Tournament semifinals at the Orleans Arena in front of 7,941, the vast majority supporting the Zags.
The 18th-ranked Bulldogs (26-5) will face second-seeded Saint Mary’s, which eliminated No. 3 Portland late Saturday night, for the title tonight at 6. GU has played in 13 straight tournament title games.
“We knew we were facing a team that was very confident and hot,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “They took it to us down there two weeks ago and they’ve played well since then. It’s kind of basketball in March. It’s probably not going to be real pretty, but I thought we were very effective.”
Nobody embodied that more than Gonzaga junior guard Steven Gray. He came in still feeling the effects of a bug that kept him on the sideline for the second half of Tuesday’s win over Cal State-Bakersfield. He got off to a blistering start, but then fell for a Drew Viney pump-fake and took a hard spill on his right side in front of Gonzaga’s bench.
Few initially thought Gray might have broken his elbow. Less than two minutes later, Gray’s elbow was taped and he was asking to return to the game. He scored on a layup six seconds after checking back in. Two possessions later, he got knocked down on a drive and made both free throws.
More pain was in store. Trying to help defend on a lob pass to LMU’s Kevin Young, Gray swiped at the ball, but missed and hit the backboard, scraping and bloodying a couple of the fingernails on his right (shooting) hand.
“That lasted a lot longer than the elbow,” Gray said. “Burning and throbbing. The elbow (pain) kind of faded away.”
Gray stuck around, knocking down a 3-pointer, a runner and a free throw after getting spilled on another drive. His 14 points and four assists staked Gonzaga to a 41-25 halftime lead. Manny Arop and Bol Kong came off the bench to combine for 10 points. Arop snagged six rebounds, one on a missed free throw that led to Gray’s 3. Gray’s offensive rebound led to Robert Sacre’s close-range shot just before the buzzer.
“That’s a tell-tale sign of whether a team is playing harder, whoever gets more 50-50 balls,” Gray said.
LMU (18-15) didn’t go away. Playing their third game in three days, the Lions got some production out of Viney, Kevin Young and Ashley Hamilton. All three were quiet in the first half.
The trio combined for 25 points in the second half and guards Jarred DuBois and Vernon Teel started finding driving lanes. The Lions closed within six twice, but Sacre made a pair of free throws and Kong connected on a 3-pointer to hike Gonzaga’s lead to 66-55.
Matt Bouldin, one of several Zags in early foul trouble, scored six of his 12 points in the final five minutes to help the Bulldogs pull away. After misfiring at the free-throw line for most of the second half, Gonzaga made seven straight while rebuilding its lead.
“They really got after us,” Lions coach Max Good said. “I think we had six turnovers in the first six minutes. After that, we only had six the rest of the game, but they were obviously inspired. We finally responded a little bit. Like the good team they are, they came back and responded.”
Elias Harris scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half. Gray finished with 18 points, seven assists and six boards. Gonzaga shot 52 percent from the field while holding LMU to 36.7 percent. Gonzaga had 15 assists. The Lions didn’t have an assist on eight first-half field goals and finished with just four.
Arop appeared to hurt his foot near the 14-minute mark of the second half. Few said the freshman wing might miss tonight’s game. He was scheduled for X-rays, but “it didn’t look good,” Few said.
Few tied Hank Anderson for first place with 290 career coaching wins.