The second time around in conference play can sometimes lead to tighter, less aesthetically pleasing games, in part because teams have fresh scouting reports on each other and there are fewer secrets.
That seemed to be the case when No. 2 Gonzaga, playing without Killian Tillie for the second straight game, and Loyola Marymount engaged in a turnover-filled, slower-tempo affair in the first half.
It didn’t last. The Bulldogs found their stride, energy and transition game in the closing half, pulling away for an easy 85-67 victory in front of 6,000 Thursday night at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Gonzaga (24-1, 10-0 WCC) stretched its home winning streak to 36, the longest in the nation. The Lions (8-16, 2-8) lost to Gonzaga for the 23rd straight time, including an 87-62 setback fewer than four weeks ago in Los Angeles.
The Zags put up 47 second-half points, drained five 3-pointers and shot 59%, which was a fraction lower than the first half (61%). The biggest difference was trimming their second-half turnovers to three.
“Just a mentality change, an absolute flip of the switch,” said junior wing Corey Kispert, who finished with three 3-pointers, 11 points, five steals and four assists. “Coach (Mark) Few got on us pretty good, and he was right. We were sluggish, kind of lazy. He called it a glazed look over our faces. The second half, we started making plays and dictating what they were doing, and they didn’t like it.”
Sophomore forward Filip Petrusev finished with 21 points – 11 coming at the free-throw line – for his third straight game with at least 20 points.
Freshman Drew Timme, starting for the second consecutive game in place of Tillie, had another big night with 17 points and eight rebounds.
“Drew’s doing a great job of delivering inside. That’s probably three or four games in row where he’s done a nice job,” Few said. “And he’s getting better defensively, so that’s a really good sign for us. We need another interior defender to help shore that up, especially when Killian’s not healthy.”
Admon Gilder buried three 3-pointers and scored 17 points. Ryan Woolridge added 12 points – four coming on a couple of electric, slashing drives to the rim – and four assists.
Kispert and Gilder split time defensively on LMU standout Eli Scott. The junior forward had a fast start, but cooled off and finished with 15 points. He committed six turnovers.
“Admon was an offensive spark, but he was really good defensively,” Few said. “We put him on Scott a lot, and he’s shown to be a good matchup on some of these hybrid forwards we’ve been dealing with that are big, strong and athletic, but maybe a little too quick for our bigs.”
Gonzaga led by 10 points after 7 minutes and 12 after 11 minutes, but it couldn’t break away – a combination of sloppy turnovers (nine in the first half) and the Lions controlling the pace.
LMU hit just enough shots (43.3%), including four 3-pointers, and battled the Zags to a near standstill on the glass. The Lions closed within 35-30, but Kispert nailed a 3-pointer before the buzzer, giving GU an eight-point edge.
The Lions, who have dropped eight of their past nine games, were within nine with 15:10 left before Gonzaga took over.
Woolridge raced in for a layup after an LMU turnover and Kispert hit a pair of 3-pointers. Timme drove for a layup, Petrusev added three free throws and Gilder connected on a 3 after another Lions’ turnover.
Woolridge had a steal and fed Petrusev for a dunk, and Joel Ayayi followed with a steal and layup as Gonzaga’s lead reached 72-45.
“First half, a little sloppy from our end,” Petrusev said. “Second half, we turned it up. We let them slow us down a little in the first half, but the second half we played fast and took care of the ball.”
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