LAS VEGAS – Welcome to March basketball.
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, a 69-55 winner over No. 3 Portland, 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. 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, 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’s 14 points and four assists staked Gonzaga to a 41-25 halftime lead.
LMU (18-15) didn’t go away. Playing their third game in three days, the Lions closed within six twice, but Robert Sacre made a pair of free throws and Bol 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. “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 rebounds.
Manny 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.
Gonzaga 77, LMU 62
Percentages: FG .367. FT .800. 3-Point Goals: 2-13, .154 (DuBois 1-2, Viney 1-4, Kalipinde 0-1, Teel 0-1, Young 0-2, Davis 0-3) Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 3 (Hamilton 2, Viney). Turnovers: 12 (Hamilton 2, Teel 3, DuBois 2, Young 3, Kalipinde, Osborne) Steals: 9 (Viney 4, Teel, DuBois 2, Young, Davis). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .521. FT .639. 3-Point Goals: 4-9, .444 (Harris 2-2, Gray 1-2, Kong 1-4, Arop 0-1) Team Rebounds: 5. Blocked Shots: 3 (Sacre 2, Olynyk). Turnovers: 14 (Harris, Sacre, Bouldin 5, Gray, Goodson 3, Fsoter, Olynyk 2) Steals: 3 (Sacre, Gray 2). Technical Fouls: None. Halftime– Gonzaga 41-25. A–7,941.