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Balanced attack helps Gonzaga roll past LMU, 92-63

LOS ANGELES – In the first eight minutes, WCC leading scorer Kyle Wiltjer didn’t attempt a shot and Gonzaga led by seven.

In roughly the first 13 minutes, the conference’s top rebounder Domantas Sabonis didn’t have a board and the Zags still led by five.

The standout forwards eventually did what they usually do but they had a ton of help along the way as the Zags thumped Loyola Marymount 92-63 in front of 3,422 Thursday at Gersten Pavilion. It was pretty much a replay of GU’s 85-62 victory over the Lions on Dec. 23.

Gonzaga (18-5, 10-2 WCC) won its fourth straight, all by double digits, heading into Saturday’s game against Pepperdine in Malibu. BYU (8-3) tightened up the top of the WCC standings by knocking off Saint Mary’s (9-2) in Provo.

The Zags rolled behind another balanced effort as guards Kyle Dranginis and Eric McClellan helped construct a big first-half lead.

“That’s maybe another reason why we’re starting to gel a little more,” said Dranginis, who had 11 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. “We aren’t relying so heavily on those two. We’re able to find looks for ourselves and we’re starting to have the mentality that we’re going to knock them down.”

That was important because LMU (10-13, 3-9) used a variety of defenses aimed at pestering Gonzaga’s bigs, leaving lanes for the guards to penetrate for easy baskets. The Zags held a 54-26 edge in paint points.

“When we’re less dependent on the two bigs we’re at our best and when we’re coming at you in a lot of different directions,” coach Mark Few said. “Some of those early games we got so dependent on those two that it kind of took the guards out of rhythm.

“What they were doing was locking in on our posts and trying to climb up on our guards, and our guards were able to turn the corner and make plays. KD (Dranginis) is finishing a lot better. He’s been really good in this last stretch.”

Sabonis had 21 points and 11 rebounds for his 13th double-double this season. Wiltjer added 23 points, five boards and two assists. McClellan contributed 14 points and Josh Perkins rebounded from a shaky start to dish out five of GU’s 19 assists.

Center Ryan Edwards provided quality minutes off the bench with six points and five boards.

“Guys are playing confidently,” Wiltjer said. “For us that’s big because the more balanced we are, the harder we are to guard.”

Gonzaga was turnover-prone early but quickly solved that problem with a 14-2 spurt to pull in front 20-11. The Zags were already stretching their lead when talented LMU forward Adom Jacko picked up his second foul with 5:22 remaining. With Jacko on the bench, Sabonis powered for back-to-back field goals and Dranginis drained a 3-pointer as the Zags built a 47-26 halftime lead, sending a good portion of LMU’s student section to the exits.

The Zags, much like last Saturday’s home rout over San Francisco, kept adding to the lead in the final 20 minutes. It reached 34 points with 8:15 remaining.

“That’s two straight 40-minute efforts,” Few said. “And to do this on the road, we haven’t had many of our teams that have been able to do that.”

Gonzaga dominated virtually every statistical category. The Zags hit 57 percent of their shots and finished with just 10 turnovers. They won the boards 40-25.

“We’re getting better all the way around,” Dranginis said. “It’s a combination of things. Our concentration and attention to detail, the coaches have been preaching it for a while and we’re finally starting to become more comfortable with that.”

Jacko, the Lions’ only reliable option, finished with 23 points and seven rebounds.

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