This was shades of the first couple weeks of the season – Sacramento State, St. Joseph’s, St. Thomas Aquinas – when Gonzaga took suspense out of the equation before some fans had settled into their seats.
Good news for Gonzaga, not so good for Loyola Marymount.
The third-ranked Zags led by 23 points before LMU connected on its first field goal and Gonzaga coasted to an 80-51West Coast Conference victory Thursday in front of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center. GU (25-1, 13-0 WCC) holds a three-game lead over Saint Mary’s, which lost 82-60 to BYU, with five regular-season games remaining.
Gonzaga, which led at half by 34 over Sacramento State, by 38 over St. Joseph’s and by 31 over St. Thomas Aquinas, led 20-0 against the Lions, who missed their first 12 shots and didn’t register a field goal until 8 minutes remained in the first half.
The Lions (8-18, 4-10) burned two timeouts early, one after just 67 seconds, trying to slow GU’s momentum. The Bulldogs had a 44-15 advantage at the break and lead by as many as 32 points in the second half.
“We try not to have letdowns,” said freshman forward Domantas Sabonis, who had 10 points and eight rebounds. “We know what our goal is. We’re working for a future goal and now every game matters.”
Junior forward Kyle Wiltjer had 21 points and 10 rebounds in 26 minutes. It was his second consecutive double-double and third of the season. Przemek Karnowski and Byron Wesley each had 11 points. Wesley added six rebounds and three assists. Kevin Pangos contributed nine points and eight assists.
Karnowski took a hard fall after being fouled by Devin Wyatt late in the first half. He didn’t start the second half, but logged nine minutes and scored on a dunk. Karnowski’s hip and elbow absorbed most of the fall. He said he’ll probably be sore today but didn’t think it was anything serious.
Sabonis left for a few minutes in the second half after rolling his ankle for the second straight game. “Nothing serious,” he said.
Gonzaga’s defense was largely responsible for the first-half blowout. The Lions made just 3 of 25 field-goal attempts (12 percent) in the opening 20 minutes and a number of their misses were way off target. LMU had 12 second-half field goals but shot just 29.4 percent overall.
“It was definitely great attention to detail as it involved the scouting report,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We kind of lost that on the Bay Area trip. We got away from taking strengths away from people and let a couple of guys walk into 3s.”
Gonzaga handled the Lions 72-55 last month in Los Angeles but in the process lost the boards (38-33) for just the second time this season. Gonzaga won the glass 46-30 in the rematch and had a 13-8 edge in second-chance points.
The Zags were efficient in the opening half, hitting 58 percent of their shots, most of the wide-open variety. On numerous occasions, GU players turned down quality shots to drive or dish to a teammate with a better look.
“We made easy plays on offense,” senior guard Gary Bell Jr. said. “That’s how we’ve been playing all year. We turned down a good one for a great one and it’s been working.”
Gonzaga struggled at the free-throw line, making just 20 of 35 (57 percent).
David Humphries led Loyola Marymount with 11 points. Evan Payne finished with eight points – nine below his average – on 2-of-7 shooting.
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