Gonzaga added its biggest milestone yet in a season stocked with firsts.
The Zags capped an unbeaten regular season with a hard-fought 86-69 victory over Loyola Marymount on Saturday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
No. 1 Gonzaga (24-0, 15-0 West Coast Conference) becomes just the eighth team with an unblemished regular season in the past 45 years, joining Kentucky (2015), Wichita State (2014), Saint Joseph’s (2004), UNLV (1991), Indiana State (1979), Alcorn State (1979) and Indiana (1976).
The ’76 Hoosiers were the last team to run the table and win the national championship.
“As I told them in practice (Friday), we’ve never done it (an unbeaten regular season) here in this program,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “It’s getting harder and harder to find something that’s never been done before in this program. There are very few things left.”
Gonzaga, which has been ranked No. 1 every week of the season, is the last unbeaten in Division I after second-ranked Baylor’s loss to Kansas. The Zags also extended the nation’s longest active home winning streak to 51 games, a program record.
The Zags continue to rewrite the record book, but they were pushed by the Lions (12-8, 7-5) on Senior Night.
Fittingly, senior Corey Kispert had a big night. The 6-foot-7 wing buried six 3-pointers and scored 24 points. Senior guard Aaron Cook made his first start of the season and contributed a 3-pointer as Gonzaga began pulling away midway through the second half.
“I definitely kept that thought (an undefeated regular season) way in the back in my mind,” Kispert said. “As we started winning games it definitely dawned on me that we had something special going.”
Drew Timme added 16 points, Joel Ayayi 13, Jalen Suggs 12 and Anton Watson was big off the bench with 11 points.
Gonzaga, for the second consecutive game, trailed for most of the first half, but a late burst erased about 15 minutes of spotty play.
The Zags closed the half with a 12-3 spurt to open up a 40-30 advantage. Kispert started it and ended it with 3-pointers from the wing – all three of his first-half triples came from nearly the same spot on the court.
In between, Ayayi had a reverse layup and a steal, Suggs hit a pair of free throws and Watson had a pretty spin move around 7-foot-3 Mattias Markusson.
LMU was as physical as advertised and the aggressor early. Markusson made all six of his first-half shots and scored 14 points despite sitting out several minutes with two fouls.
The Lions were a little too physical at times. Gonzaga was in the double-bonus for the final 6 minutes of the half. The Zags didn’t always cash in, making 8 of 15, but it was another source of points in an opening half that often lacked flow.
LMU dominated on the boards, but it was sloppy with the ball. The Lions’ turnovers covered the spectrum – travel, double-dribble, unforced, shot-clock violation, offensive fouls and a couple against GU’s 1-2-2 press.
Those miscues took away a lot of possessions for the Lions, who were otherwise efficient with 52.2% shooting half. Those miscues also accounted for a big chunk of Gonzaga’s offense – 17 points off turnovers as the Zags grabbed a 40-30 halftime lead.
The Zags stretched it to 58-40 on a Suggs’ three-point play that was created by Watson’s steal. Kispert’s 3-pointer put Gonzaga on top 67-46.
Kispert exited with about 2 minutes left and received a standing ovation from the bench and a limited number of players’ families in attendance.
Gonzaga shot 58.3% from the field and finished with a 29-3 edge in points off turnovers. LMU, which finished with 19 turnovers, was led by Eli Scott’s 20 and Markusson’s 19.
“I thought it was a great win,” Few said. “LMU had our full attention. They’re so huge, they’re physical as heck, rebound the living daylights out of the ball and they have some 3-point shooters.
“You know you’re going to get an intense battle on both ends of the floor when you go against Eli Scott. Our guys did a good job on short prep getting ready for that.”
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