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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Gonzaga will focus on better defense against LMU

LOS ANGELES – Mark Few had one more thought on his mind.

Gonzaga’s basketball coach had wrapped up his thoughts on Loyola Marymount’s quirky zone defense, the Lions’ ability to protect the rim and the challenge of defending sophomore guard Evan Payne’s one-on-one moves.

“And we’ve got to play better defense than we did against Pepperdine,” stressed Few, as he exited a narrow hallway at Firestone Fieldhouse on Thursday.

Gonzaga’s defensive numbers weren’t pretty in the second half of its 78-76 win over Pepperdine. The Waves made 63 percent from the field – eclipsing Washington State’s 62.5 as the highest percentage half against the Zags this season. Pepperdine’s 51 percent shooting overall trailed only WSU’s 52.1. In GU’s lone loss, Arizona made 60 percent of its second-half shots en route to an overtime victory.

It sounded as if players had already heard Few’s message.

“Defense is the big thing,” senior guard Kevin Pangos said. “We’re going to be great offensively but we have to play better defensively.”

The Zags’ next opportunity comes against Loyola Marymount (5-13, 1-5 WCC) today. The Lions snapped a five-game skid with an 80-68 win over Portland on Thursday. Their five WCC losses have ranged between nine and 14 points.

LMU has piled up 35 assists while averaging 76 points in its last two games. The Lions have 11 newcomers on a roster that includes eight international players.

Payne, a sophomore who has led the team in scoring 15 times, came off the bench against Portland and didn’t play in the previous game, a loss to BYU.

Seniors Godwin Okonji and Ayodeji Egbeyemi, both coming off medical redshirt years, and Chase Flint provide much- needed experience for first-year coach Mike Dunlap.

“They play an entirely different system,” Few said. “It’s a really different zone defense that shoves you to one side and they try to keep you on one side. Payne is a tough guard and he can get his shot at any time.”

No. 3 Gonzaga (17-1, 6-0) will be the highest-ranked team to visit Gersten Pavilion, which opened in January 1982.