What a difference a week makes.
After a road trip where the Gonzaga men’s basketball team was thumped by BYU and had its hands full with Pepperdine, the Bulldogs returned home and handled No. 16 Saint Mary’s on Thursday. The obvious concern was whether Gonzaga could summon the same energy and intensity with Loyola Marymount, statistically the best road team in the conference and also in the hunt for a double-bye in the WCC tournament, next on the schedule.
The Bulldogs followed up their best 40 minutes of basketball with a 40-minute encore, riding Kevin Pangos’ 21 points and Elias Harris’ 17 points and 15 rebounds past LMU 78-59 Saturday in front of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“That’s guys responding is what that is,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said, “and understanding it was a big weekend and they needed to be their best.”
Gonzaga (20-4, 10-2 WCC) reached the 20-win mark for the 15th straight season. The Lions (16-10, 9-4) suffered their second-worst loss of the season and their first in seven WCC road games.
Pangos made five 3s and handed out a career-high nine assists in 32 turnover-free minutes. Pangos and freshman backcourt running mate Gary Bell Jr. played a combined 126 minutes Thursday and Saturday with 14 assists and one turnover.
“That’s an amazing stat, especially with the ball in their hands a lot,” Few said. “That’s part of the reason those two are so special, and they step up and hit big shots.”
Said Pangos: “We’re still making plays without turning it over, which is the best part.”
Few had teased Harris about the rebounding prowess of UNLV’s Mike Moser, who averages 11.4 boards per game. Harris responded with 15 rebounds, one shy of his career high, and his eighth double-double this season.
“He told me Moser’s stats and it kind of motivated me when he said that,” said Harris, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds against Saint Mary’s. “I know what I’m capable of but sometimes I catch myself watching the ball instead of going (after it). I didn’t let that happen tonight.”
The Bulldogs raced in front 15-5 when Harris, trailing on the break, hit a 3-pointer. GU led by as many as 16 and the lead would have been in the 20s if not for Anthony Ireland’s 19-point first half. The sophomore guard didn’t have much help from his teammates. He made 7 of 9 shots, including 3 of 3 3-pointers. His teammates were 3 of 19 and 0 of 8 from long distance.
Gonzaga led 40-30 at half and quickly stretched the margin to 18 on a pair of free throws by Robert Sacre, who finished with 13 points. Guy Landry Edi, who also had 13 points, scored eight in the first 6 minutes of the second half, two on fast-break layups.
“They weren’t getting back on defense and Kevin told me to run the floor and the coaches told me to run the floor,” Edi said.
Ireland cooled off in the second half, but senior forward Drew Viney poured in 16 of his team-high 24 points. Ireland finished with 23. Those two combined for 17 points in Gonzaga’s win last month.
“You can see how good of players they are,” Few said. “I think we made them take tough shots for the most part, but they’re very gifted and they hit a lot of tough shots.”
Gonzaga played without reserve wing Mathis Keita, who sprained his ankle in Friday’s practice. David Stockton sprained his ankle during the game and returned briefly late in the first half. He didn’t play in the second half.
GU made 52 percent from the field – its third straight game in the 50s – and 17 of 19 at the free-throw line. LMU made just 39.3 percent of its shots and was outrebounded by 13.
“The biggest thing is everyone is buying in, I can’t say that enough,” Pangos said. “We’re just doing our part and playing team basketball, taking good shots and communicating on defense. There’s still room to grow, but we had a really good weekend.”