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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

No. 2 Gonzaga preparing to face ‘old’ and ‘physical’ Loyola Marymount

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 26, 2022

Over a three-game stretch against Pepperdine, BYU and Santa Clara, Gonzaga scored 342 point and generated 3-point and assist numbers that raised the bar for an offense that was already one of the nation’s most dynamic.

It was unrealistic to think the Bulldogs would maintain that level of offensive proficiency against every team they face in the West Coast Conference. Gonzaga, relatively speaking, fell back down to earth, scoring only 78 points – still two points better than what the WCC’s next-best team averages – in a 16-point win over San Francisco last week.

Thursday’s game against Loyola Marymount, however, gives Gonzaga another opportunity to meet, or perhaps exceed, the offensive standard it set for itself a few weeks ago. The second-ranked Bulldogs (15-2, 4-0) meet the slumping Lions (9-8, 2-3) at 8 p.m. in Spokane. The game will be televised by CBS Sports and features the same broadcast crew – Rich Waltz, Dan Dickau, and Jenny Dell – that called GU’s last game against USF.

LMU’s 13-9 record in 2020-21 led many to think the Lions could be primed for a top-four finish in the WCC. Those beliefs only grew stronger when All-WCC first-team selection Eli Scott exercised his option to return for a fifth season.

But the Lions have dropped three of their past five games in WCC play. Although Scott remains in the hunt for more postseason accolades, his scoring and rebounding numbers have taken slight dips from last year while his turnover numbers have gone the opposite way.

The guard/forward averaged 18 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game in 2020-21, but he’s averaging 16.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game this season. Scott’s coming off a game that could be characterized as one of his worst , and potentially LMU’s worst as a team, this season. In an 83-51 loss to Saint Mary’s, the fifth-year senior had more turnovers (six) than points (five) after averaging 23 ppg in the four previous games.

LMU’s results may not line up with preseason expectations, but GU head coach Mark Few indicated the Lions’ identity hasn’t changed in coach Stan Johnson’s second season.

“Physical, old, physical, physical again,” Few said last Thursday when asked to describe LMU. “And interesting player in Eli.”

Johnson’s starters don’t have a great deal of experience playing together – guards Cam Shelton (Northern Arizona) and Kwane Marble II (Wyoming) transferred to LMU in the offseason – but a unit featuring three seniors and two juniors isn’t short on Division I experience.

Scott, Shelton, Marble , Joe Quintana and Keli Leaupepe have played 454 combined college games. By comparison, Gonzaga’s eight-man rotation of Drew Timme, Chet Holmgren, Julian Strawther, Andrew Nembhard, Rasir Bolton, Anton Watson, Hunter Sallis and Nolan Hickman has just 455 combined games under its belt.

“They’re a really physical team, man” Timme said. “You’ve got to bring the fight to them because they’re coming in swinging.”

The focal point of LMU’s offense is Scott, who’d played two full college basketball seasons before Timme put on a Gonzaga uniform for the first time. In eight career matchups against the Bulldogs, Scott has scored 97 points (12.1 ppg) and averaged 18.3 ppg in the past three against GU.

“Playing against Eli the last two years or whatever it’s been, he’s a great player,” Timme said. “He’s going to facilitate, create for others and also he can score and get multiple shot attempts up one possession. So I think just really locking into the game plan and trying to limit him because he’s such a great player, it’ll be a great challenge for us.”

While the Zags have to account for LMU’s wrecking ball in the low post, they must also be cautious of the Lions’ 3-point shooters, especially Quintana. The senior guard has two of the WCC’s top three 3-point performances this season, making seven 3s in games against Bellarmine and Arkansas-Little Rock. Only USF’s Jamaree Bouyea has made more 3s (eight) in a single game.

“They’ve got some great guards that can shoot, they’ve got another four man that’s really physical and has been shooting the ball well,” Timme said. “It’s going to be a good challenge for our defense, but we’re ready for it, we’re excited for it and we’re looking forward to playing them.”

The Lions, carrying the WCC’s worst turnover margin at -1.82, are facing a team that has the conference’s best, at +1.29. Other categories in which Gonzaga is posting the WCC’s top mark and LMU its lowest include rebounding offense (42.24 vs. 31.24), blocked shots (5.71 vs. 2.18), assist/turnover ratio (1.59 vs. 0.77) and defensive rebounds (31.71 vs. 22.53).

LMU will be without key reserve Dameane Douglas (10.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg), who was ruled out for the remainder of the season with an ankle injury, according to CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

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