LOS ANGELES – There are many things that worry Gonzaga men’s basketball coach Mark Few. Gary Bell Jr. isn’t one of them.
The sophomore guard’s 3-point shooting percentage had slipped to 32.5 percent, but he heard the same message from coaches and teammates: Keep shooting.
Bell made five 3-pointers in a 6-minute, 25-second span in the first half as No. 7 Gonzaga destroyed overmatched Loyola Marymount 88-43 on Thursday night at Gersten Pavilion, which had pretty much emptied by late in the second half, save for a few hundred Zag followers, from the near sellout of 3,952 on hand for the opening tip. It was GU’s most lopsided win over the Lions since a 103-56 drubbing in 2000.
Bell finished with 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting from long distance, his first double-figures game since Santa Clara in early January and his highest point total since scoring a season-high 16 versus South Dakota in the third game of the season.
“The coaches told me to stay aggressive, don’t turn down any open 3s,” said Bell, who lifted his 3-point percentage to 35.5. “The bigs, everybody was focused on them and they played zone. I got wide-open looks.
“I knew it was going to come. I’ve been coming in with Coach (Ray) Giacoletti shooting Monday, Wednesday and Friday before practice, trying to keep my stroke tight.”
There was a stack of positives from this one – adhesive defense (LMU shot 25 percent), dominating rebounding (GU 46-31), blistering perimeter shooting (13 of 21 3s), solid bench play (47 points) and no second-half letdown (42-25). But the return of Bell’s stroke was at the top of the list.
“It was nice,” Few said. “No, I don’t worry about him. Every time he shoots it I think it’s going in. Whether he’s making them or not, it doesn’t change how hard he plays and his dedication to the defensive end.”
The Bulldogs (20-2, 7-0 WCC) had a 10-point lead with barely 5 minutes gone – and that was before Bell heated up. About the time Bell began draining everything in sight, LMU’s offense came to a standstill with unsightly turnovers and three consecutive airballs on 3-point attempts. When Ashley Hamilton connected to end a dry spell of more than 6 minutes, Gonzaga had taken a commanding 21-point lead.
LMU (8-13, 1-7) came out in man-to-man defense but quickly shifted to a zone. The Lions stubbornly stayed in zone, despite Bell’s torrid shooting and a 3-pointer by Drew Barham. GU had eight 3s and led 46-18 at half.
“That was interesting,” said David Stockton, one of six Zags to connect from long distance. “Maybe they thought Gary hadn’t been shooting it well lately, but it was so good to get him going.”
Gonzaga substituted early and often. Nine Bulldogs scored, led by Bell’s and Kelly Olynyk’s 15 points, and nine had assists, paced by Stockton’s seven. The Bulldogs had 24 assists on 31 field goals. All 11 Zags played double-digit minutes and none of the five starters logged more than 23 minutes.
Barham, who made four of five 3-pointers, and Sam Dower each had 13 points. The Bulldogs made a season-high 13 3s (on 21 attempts).
“It’s awesome, especially for keeping guys fresh and it’s great for guys to get in and get experience because we’re going to need those guys down the stretch,” Olynyk said. “Drew is becoming a huge factor. He’s been doing it all year to us in practice.”
LMU point guard Anthony Ireland, second in the WCC in scoring at 20 per game, had few open looks in the first half. He scored 14 of his game-high 19 points in the second half.
The Bulldogs, after a couple of spotty second-half performances with big leads, didn’t let up in the final 20 minutes.
“We came out flat in the second half against San Francisco (last Saturday) and we really wanted to make a statement that we were going to put two halves together,” Barham said. “We want to be aggressive. It doesn’t matter if we’re up 5 or 25.”
Kelly Olynyk is one of 12 players selected to the Oscar Robertson Trophy Midseason Watch List announced by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. The award for the national player of the year will be present on April 15 in Oklahoma City.