Over the course of his Gonzaga career, coach Mark Few has enjoyed success any way you want to measure it.
Wins. Conference titles. NCAA victories. Graduated players.
But if the bar is how well he’s done against the Los Angeles-area West Coast Conference schools, nothing else measures up.
In his 19 seasons, Few’s Zags have played 80 times against Pepperdine and Saturday night’s opponent, Loyola Marymount. They have won 75.
That’s a 93.8-percent clip.
Which is just another reason the Zags’ 85-66 win over the Lions in Gersten Pavilion wasn’t unexpected.
The question, however, is how. It’s a question the ESPNU announcing crew of Eric Rothman and Adrian Branch spent much of the game trying to explain.
What they saw…
The numbers told a story. One that everyone with eyes could see as well. The Zags (14-3 overall, 4-0 in WCC play) dominated inside.
Johnathan Williams had a game-high 30 points. Rui Hachimura and Killian Tillie combined for another 18. Many of guard Josh Perkins’ career-high 10 assists came from post feeds or off dribble penetration and a dish.
“The difference … is the commitment of Gonzaga is to look inside and play inside-out first,” Branch said following another Williams’ catch in traffic and dunk.
That commitment continued throughout, and Branch was appreciative.
“You’ve got to keep going to the well until your opponent makes an adjustment,” Branch said as the Zags ran out to a double-digit lead in the first-half.
The Lions (5-10, 0-4) play just didn’t have the players to match up with the Gonzaga bigs, so coach Mike Dunlap adjusted another way.
His team fired away from the outside. Or, as Branch described it, “a tale of two stories.”
Loyola Marymount’s story starred guard Steven Haney, who had 18 points in the first half and keyed an 11-3 run to end the period, which pulled the Lions’ within five at 46-41.
It didn’t hurt Loyola Marymount’s efforts that referee Bill Vinovich, who had the weekend off from his NFL referee duties, made two calls that gave LMU hope. The first was Williams’ second foul, an offensive one that Branch termed “might have been a little WWE flop.” It sent GU’s leading scorer to the bench.
The other came as time was winding down and Hachimura drove for what would have been his fifth bucket. But Mikail Simmons jumped into him and knocked him askew, the ball finding Jeffery McClendon for a layup.
Vinovich indicated Simmons went straight up, though replays showed he moved at least 2 feet into Hachimura.
What we saw…
The Lions’ momentum disappeared coming out of the locker room, courtesy of a 17-0 Gonzaga run to start the second half. LMU did not score for 5 minutes, 23 seconds.
Let’s give Perkins another assist. Throughout the latter part of the first half, Few implored his players not to leave Haney. And yet they did, as he connected on five 3-point shots.
To start the second, Few asked Perkins to guard LMU’s senior. As the other Zags played their regular defense, Perkins stayed glued to Haney, not letting him get even a catch, let alone a shot. As Gonzaga made its game-deciding run, the LMU offense stagnated. A big part was Perkins’ play.
Rothman, the play-by-play voice, noticed Haney’s lack of scoring 7 minutes in as the Zags built a 25-point edge. He mentioned Haney’s drought.
Branch, the analyst, responded.
“We haven’t seen him score yet,” he said, but didn’t offer a reason why.
Which is too bad. Up until that point, the broadcast had been really good, if you ignore a repeat of the same opening Few-themed montage ESPNU used Thursday night.
Rothman even went out of his way to correct a mistake he made, something few broadcasters like to do. He credited the second LMU 3-pointer of the night to Haney, though James Batemon made it. Coming out of a commercial break, Rothman apologized and set the record straight, giving Batemon his due.
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