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Gonzaga having easy time against WCC’s have-nots heading into game at struggling LMU

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 5, 2018

Gonzaga’s Zach Norvell Jr., right, is pressured by Pepperdine’s Eric Cooper Jr. during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018, in Malibu, Calif. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)
Gonzaga’s Zach Norvell Jr., right, is pressured by Pepperdine’s Eric Cooper Jr. during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018, in Malibu, Calif. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

LOS ANGELES – Gonzaga’s schedule is routinely front-loaded. The Zags face most of their biggest challenges in the non-conference prior to the Christmas break.

The Zags’ WCC slate is just the opposite. It’s back-loaded and there has been essentially no drama in their first three conference games. The Zags’ average margin of victory is nearly 37 points.

Gonzaga’s first five games could come against teams that eventually make up the WCC’s bottom five. The biggest tests are coming – at San Francisco on Jan. 13, vs. Saint Mary’s on Jan. 18 and two February dates with BYU and upstart San Diego – but Gonzaga’s next order of business is struggling Loyola Marymount (5-9, 0-3 WCC) at Gersten Pavilion on Saturday.

To this point, the 19th-ranked Zags (13-3, 3-0) haven’t looked past overmatched opponents. So what’s the motivation against LMU, which has dropped five in a row, the last by 16 points at home against a Santa Clara squad that lost to Gonzaga by 49 last week?

“It’s not hard,” junior point guard Josh Perkins shrugged shortly after GU’s 89-59 rout over Pepperdine on Thursday. “If I’m right we were picked second (behind Saint Mary’s) in this league. We have a point to prove. Every coach that didn’t pick us will feel it on the court.”

The gulf between the WCC’s haves and have-nots seems to be growing, even in a season when many believe the Zags and Gaels aren’t quite as good as they were last season. That’s debatable, of course, but the early conference outcomes leave little to the imagination. Saint Mary’s thumped Loyola Marymount by 28 and Pacific by 18, and outlasted BYU in overtime. BYU crushed Portland by 24.

The Lions were fairly competitive against Texas-Arlington, Washington and Oregon State but they’ve hit the skids in the WCC. LMU led late in regulation against Pacific but couldn’t hold on and fell in overtime. LMU opponents are shooting 54.5 percent.

The Lions have done two things well most of the season. They’re aggressive and force a WCC-leading 14.9 turnovers per game. They also collect 14 offensive rebounds per game, best in the conference and 11th nationally.

“Super physical and some nice athletes,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “The point guard (James Batemon) can really score it and does a nice job in transition and playing with ball secreens. They play a lot of zone (defense).

“Second night of a road trip. It’ll be who shows up and wants to give great effort.”

Batemon (17.7 points, 4.6 assists) and freshman forward Eli Scott (13.1 points, 7.4 rebounds) carry the offense. LMU has just two seniors, 3-point specialist Steven Haney and center Petr Herman, who hasn’t played since the season opener.

The Lions are one of the younger teams in the country with six freshmen, four sophomores and JC transfers Batemon, Cameron Allen and Dylan Causwell.

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