It's probably safe to say that Gonzaga, at the beginning of the week, wasn't expecting to see Loyola Marymount in the WCC semifinals. But the ninth-seeded Lions have pulled off three upsets in three nights, the latest a 60-58 win over No. 4 Santa Clara on Friday, to earn a date with the Bulldogs.
More on Gonzaga's motivation in the tournament and the matchup with LMU below in my unedited preview.
By Jim Meehan
LAS VEGAS – The Gonzaga Bulldogs’ rise to No. 1 in the college basketball polls hasn’t clouded their memories entering the WCC Tournament.
“Two things that are going to motivate us: Saint Mary’s is one and obviously we have to play hard and try to make sure we get the respect that we think we deserve” for seeding in the NCAA Tournament, senior forward Elias Harris said.
Saint Mary’s ended Gonzaga’s streak of 11 consecutive WCC regular-season titles last year and then defeated the Zags 78-74 in overtime to win the conference tournament. The Bulldogs ran the table this season, including a pair of victories over the Gaels, to claim the WCC championship by two games.
Top-seeded Gonzaga (29-2) begins pursuit of its next goal in the WCC Tournament semifinals against No. 9 Loyola Marymount, which upset No. 4 Santa Clara 60-58 for its third win in three nights, at 6 tonight at the Orleans Arena.
Most analysts currently list Gonzaga as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs were seeded second in 2004 and third in 2005 and 2006. They’ve never been a No. 1 seed.
“Saint Mary’s took the regular season and the tournament (last year), if that doesn’t motivate you I don’t know what will,” senior guard Mike Hart said. “Add in the stakes of being a No. 1 seed, that’s another accomplishment we haven’t gotten yet. That should be all the motivation you need.”
Loyola Marymount (11-22), which went 1-15 in conference and finished last by three games, has knocked off No. 8 Portland, No. 5 San Francisco and No. 4 Santa Clara.
“They’ve got a little mojo going,” said Bulldogs assistant coach Ray Giacoletti, who scouted the LMU-SCU game. “Anthony Ireland is the consummate scoring point guard, (Ashley) Hamilton can put pressure on you driving it and shooting it and they’ve had a cast of guys that have helped them. The walk-on (Taylor) Walker has had a great three-game stint here.”
Ireland had 23 points, including a 5-foot bank shot that gave LMU a 59-58 lead with 5.4 seconds left. Hamilton added 13 points and nine rebounds.
“I’ve been taking two ice baths a day to be ready for the next challenge,” said Ireland, who has played 122 of 125 possible minutes in three games.
GU beat the Lions 88-43 in Los Angeles and 74-55 in Spokane.
“I think it should feel like any other game,” sophomore guard Gary Bell Jr. said of GU’s first game with the No. 1 ranking. “Just come out and play hard, like we do every game.”