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Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga rewind: Post-Kentucky performance and Ryan Nembhard-Graham Ike connection

Nolan Hickman knows what’s coming next.

Loyola Marymount’s offense dried up in crunch time Thursday as Gonzaga pulled away for a 91-74 win at Gersten Pavilion. The Lions scored just three points in the final 8-plus minutes, so GU’s defense buckled down with the game hanging in the balance.

Still, LMU connected on nearly 53% from the field to become just the third Gonzaga opponent to make at least 50% of its shots. UConn finished at 56%, followed by LMU and San Diego State (50%).

“We’ve been playing great defense,” GU junior point guard Ryan Nembhard said. “We just have to be better at certain points, just have to be a little more locked in on the scouts sometimes.”

It was a reversal of the Bulldogs’ 92-58 rout over LMU two weeks ago in Spokane when the Lions shot just 37%.

“Definitely, definitely lots of defensive drills,” Hickman said of the practice focus before Saturday’s home game versus Pacific, mentioning one specific cut that LMU used successfully against the Zags. “But we’re going to figure it out.”

More on the Zags’ up-and-down performance following a huge road win against Kentucky and the growing Ryan Nembhard-Graham Ike connection in our latest Gonzaga rewind.

From Rupp to Gersten

The ingredients were all there Thursday for a GU letdown with 2,827 in attendance after holding off then-No. 17 Kentucky last Saturday in front of 20,000 at Rupp Arena.

GU was heavily favored against the Lions after the blowout win in Spokane on Jan. 30. LMU suited up six scholarship players due to a lengthy injury list that included former Gonzaga guard Dominick Harris (knee).

“I talked at length about this game,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “They knew this was going to be hard fought. They still had some of their best players on the floor. Those guards (Will Johnston, Justice Hill and Justin Wright) are something.

“We talked at length about, ‘Hey, everything is still in front of us about what we want to accomplish this season.’ Obviously, in the middle of February and we’re still playing for something and our intensity needs to show that. I don’t think our intensity was bad, but we got back on our heels when (Johnston) started hitting those shots.”

Nembhard noted that Gonzaga’s game plan didn’t change much with LMU’s diminished roster, other than attempting to put early foul pressure on the Lions.

“We know all these games are important,” said Nembhard, whose brother Andrew, former GU standout and second-year NBA player with Indiana, will be at Saturday’s home game. “That’s a bit of a problem. We needed to come into this game with the same intensity as we did at Rupp and we obviously didn’t. That’s something we can definitely work on.”

Comfort zone for Nembhard, Ike

Nembhard has been on the same offensive wavelength with his teammates, especially Ike, who has scored at least 20 points in six of the past nine games.

Nembhard distributed 11 assists versus the Lions, giving him 26 in the past three games for an 8.7 per game average. He’s averaging nearly 6.4 assists with a stellar 4.1 assist-to-turnover ratio in West Coast Conference games.

“We’re pretty deep into the season at this point,” Nembhard said, “so I’m getting a lot more comfortable in my reads and with the guys.”

Ike is averaging 16.2 points in conference play. He’s at a team-leading 15.6 points for the season.

Two months ago, after a five-point outing versus UConn, Ike was averaging 13.4 points.

“It’s just the reps,” Ike said. “The more reps I get, the more comfortable I become. I’m loving that the game is still slowing down, still starting to see reads a little better now.”

In Gonzaga’s 19 wins compared to the six losses, Nembhard’s shooting numbers are better, but his scoring average drops to 11.3 from 15.3 points. His assists climb to 6.5 from 5.0 in setbacks.

“Oh man, he’s a bad boy,” Ike said of Nembhard. “He’s hard to be stopped.”