The upsets keep coming in college basketball and the Gonzaga Bulldogs are taking notice.
“We watched a couple earlier (Saturday) and we know that it can happen,” sophomore guard Kevin Pangos said. “It’s a good way to remind us not to let it happen to us.”
The sixth-ranked Bulldogs didn’t let it happen, riding 56 combined points from Pangos, Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris to a businesslike 74-55 victory over Loyola Marymount in front of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Upsets elsewhere, including losses by No. 1 Indiana and No. 2 Florida earlier this week and a Saturday that saw No. 5 Kansas fall to Oklahoma and No. 3 Michigan lose to Wisconsin, should move Gonzaga (23-2, 10-0 WCC) up in the polls. Gonzaga was ranked as high as No. 3 by AP and No. 2 by ESPN/USA Today in March 2004.
Rankings chatter barely raises an eyebrow from head coach Mark Few.
“I think (the players) do (pay attention) and that’s fine to a certain extent, but again that’s a fickle description of where everything is at,” Few said. “The biggest barometer out there is we’ve put together a great season, we’ve accrued a lot of great wins and the teams we’ve beat are out there winning games, too.”
Few quickly returned the conversation to the victory over the Lions (8-16, 1-10), who put up a fight after losing to Gonzaga by 45 points nine days ago. The Bulldogs, after hoisting at least 20 3-point attempts in three of their previous four games, had success on the interior.
Olynyk piled up 20 points, six rebounds and four assists. Harris added 16 points and 10 boards. The two combined to make 16 of 20 at the free-throw line. Harris attempted 12 free throws in the second half. Three Lions forwards fouled out.
“We took a little step, which was getting back to attacking inside-out,” said Few, whose team faces second-place Saint Mary’s on Thursday. “Lately we’ve been getting a lot of sagging (off the guards) and the 3s were available.”
Gonzaga’s effectiveness inside led to opportunities on the perimeter. Pangos cashed in, making 4 of 7 3-pointers. Gary Bell Jr.’s lone 3 helped the Bulldogs extend their lead early in the second half against the feisty Lions.
“We want to put pressure on people inside, getting to the foul line is huge,” Olynyk said. “When we get the ball inside, people have to collapse and the 3s are open. It’s really tough to shoot contested 3s in college basketball.”
Gonzaga made 55.6 percent of its shots and limited LMU to 22.6 percent in the first half, but led only 36-25. Eleven GU turnovers, which the Lions converted into 12 points, and nine LMU offensive rebounds, which led to seven second-chance points, kept the Lions within 11.
LMU point guard Anthony Ireland scored 15 points in the first half. He went scoreless for the first 9-plus minutes of the second half before striking for 15 more points. He received a nice ovation from the crowd when he exited in the final minute.
“If we can play that way the rest of the year, we showed some good signs,” LMU coach Max Good said. “We played two walk-ons (Taylor Walker and Adam Drexler) for about the last 6 minutes of each half and they gave us some good things. There’s no secret, we just have trouble scoring the ball. We have one scorer (Ireland).”
The Bulldogs committed only four turnovers in the second half. They ended up winning the boards, 43-29, and dominated points in the paint (34-18). LMU finished just 17 of 57 from the field (29.8 percent).
“Our defense has been a big part of our success recently,” senior forward Mike Hart said. “We’re clamping down, paying more attention to the details and fighting at that end of the floor and not just trying to outscore people.”