LOS ANGELES – The prelims are over, but before moving on to Saturday’s main event – No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 20 Saint Mary’s in Moraga – the Zags did what they’ve done most of the season.
They didn’t overlook an overmatched opponent. They took care of business, routing Loyola Marymount 90-60 in front of 4,068 Thursday at Gersten Pavilion.
That isn’t as easy as it sounds. Trace back through Gonzaga’s season and there are some stretches of so-so play and an indifferent half or two, but otherwise they’ve stayed on task.
Add in Saturday’s showdown against the Gaels and ESPN’s GameDay broadcast and Thursday’s game-before-the-game was a prime candidate for a Gonzaga letdown.
Didn’t happen. Gonzaga had runs of 9-0 and 13-3 in the first half to take command.
“I feel like we’ve done it all year,” junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss said. “For games like Saturday, you can’t just expect to turn it on. We preach having great practices, great games, regardless of who we’re playing.
“So when we do get in these big games like Saturday, we only know how to play one way. It’s been a recipe for success for us.”
It’s one of the benefits of the Zags’ experienced rotation. Przemek Karnowski has played in 138 career games at Gonzaga. Silas Melson is closing in on 100. Josh Perkins is at 65.
Transfers Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington) and Johnathan Williams (Missouri) were two-year starters at power conference programs. Jordan Mathews brought three years of seasoning from Cal as a graduate transfer.
Freshmen Zach Collins and Killian Tillie, who had one of his best games of the season, don’t play like freshmen.
“This was the game that we needed to take care of,” Karnowski said. “We won, and we’re on to Saint Mary’s.”
There have been snoozers among Gonzaga’s 25 wins – the last 17 have been by double figures – but no stinkers, no mail-it-in performances.
It’s reminiscent of the 2013 team that had a knack for staying in the moment.
The biggest challenge presented by the Lions was their physical play. LMU didn’t back down, even when trailing by 20-plus points for most of the second half. This one was filled with hard fouls, floor burns and players from both teams taking nasty falls.
“It was one of the more physical games of the season,” freshman forward Killian Tillie said. “They were hitting us and it was tough. I think we did a great job staying calm and answering on the court.”
It actually played into Gonzaga’s hands. The Zags utilized their depth and pounded LMU inside. The Lions had more fouls (31) than field goals (24).
The Zags finished with 44 free-throw attempts, hitting 34. LMU was just 4 of 8 at the stripe.
“This was a physical game where we got pushed and challenged a little bit, and we did a nice job responding,” GU coach Mark Few said. “It was a game where we needed to shoot a lot of free throws.
“They played hard from the tip all the way to the buzzer. Mike’s team (Mike Dunlap, LMU coach), his team has shown that all year. I liked our physical nature.”
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