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Gonzaga Basketball

Analysis: Gonzaga’s defense and eventually its offense too much for Loyola Marymount

Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert  drives past Loyola Marymount guard Eli Scott  during the first half  Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Los Angeles. (Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

LOS ANGELES – Gersten Pavilion’s main scoreboard malfunctioned early in the second half, but a lot of folks didn’t notice because, well, there wasn’t much happening for Gonzaga or Loyola Marymount.

The problem was corrected within a few minutes. The timing was perfect, too, because No. 1-ranked Gonzaga, also top-ranked in scoring offense nationally, started putting up points in a hurry.

The Bulldogs spent the first 25 minutes or so figuring out LMU’s myriad defenses. When they solved it, the Zags broke away with a 49-point second half in an 87-62 victory Saturday in front of 3,534 – perhaps 35% of the crowd sporting Zags gear.

The offensive eruption helped the Zags (18-1, 4-0 WCC) enjoy a comfortable win, their 10th in a row and 22nd straight over the Lions (7-10, 1-2).

With San Francisco’s 79-75 victory at Pacific on Saturday, the Zags are the lone WCC program without a conference loss.

“We’re a high-paced offense and we like moving the ball quick, and they did some things that made it difficult,” said junior wing Corey Kispert, who warmed up in the second half and finished with 15 points, one of five in double figures. “But we’re good enough offensively that we find things that work, and we were able to figure it out.”

Gonzaga’s defense, solid until a late LMU scoring burst against reserves, was the team’s backbone. The Zags contained junior wing Eli Scott in the first half while taking a 38-22 lead. By the time Scott got untracked – he finished with 20 points – the Zags had already built a big cushion.

The Lions shot 38.6% from the field, well below their season average of 47.6%. They were on a point-per-minute pace most of the first half. Ivan Alipiev scored all 11 of his points in the second half when Gonzaga had a double-digit lead.

Senior forward Killian Tillie, 5 inches taller and 25 pounds lighter than Scott, got the defensive nod on Scott, who essentially directs the offense as a point forward. Tillie’s length bothered the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Scott, who had seven points, one assist and three turnovers in the opening half. The supporting cast couldn’t pick up the slack, shooting 6 of 20 from the field and missing all seven 3-point attempts.

By game’s end, Anton Watson, Admon Gilder, Corey Kispert, Drew Timme and Filip Petrusev had stints guarding Scott.

“I’ve been guarding him a while (with) two years playing against him,” Tillie said. “I know exactly what to do against him. I think we could have done a better job on him.”

Watson was off to a nice start with a rebound, an assist and a steal, but he absorbed a hard foul while finishing a layup. His left shoulder popped out of place, a recurring problem that began Nov. 15 against Texas A&M, and he sat out the remainder of the game.

LMU, as advertised, was physical and emptied the defensive playbook at the Zags. The Lions switched between man and zone, sometimes within the same possession. They pressed, trapped and double-teamed posts and on the perimeter.

“They’re aggressive. They tried to trap us whenever they could,” said Petrusev, who scored 16 points – eight at the free-throw line – and grabbed seven rebounds. “They have those weird rotations when there’s really no rules, but they wouldn’t let us play one-on-one or (run) ball-screen plays. We just had to adjust.”

Gonzaga was in control from the outset, but errant free-throw and 3-point shooting kept things interesting. The Zags settled into stretches with two or three productive possessions followed by the same number of empty ones. They missed their first eight 3-point attempts before Gilder connected from deep with 4:02 left in the half.

Gonzaga’s defense against a subpar offensive team allowed the Zags to construct a 30-15 lead. The Zags scored the last six points of the half to take a 16-point lead.

The first 4-plus minutes of the second half were a slog with both teams misfiring and the Zags committing three turnovers. Ryan Woolridge’s driving layup, followed by buckets by Tillie and Kispert helped Gonzaga find its footing.

Drew Timme and Gilder, who combined for 22 points off the bench, added field goals as the Zags extended their lead to 67-46.

“They do a lot of changing and different looks,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said of LMU. “That’s why you have to trust your guys to play, get in the right actions and make the right decisions. Woolridge is such a big key in that regard, and obviously Tillie. Drew was great about flashing and initiating offense and making smart, solid plays.”

Woolridge finished with 13 points, six rebounds and five assists. Timme had his first double-double with 10 points and 11 boards. The frontcourt of Petrusev, Tillie and Timme combined for 10 of the team’s 20 assists.