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Gonzaga Basketball

‘As good as we’ve played all year’: Gonzaga clicks on offense, defense in 92-58 rout of LMU

Gonzaga forward Anton Watson (22) heads off the court after the Zags defeated LMU 92-58 during a NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024, in the McCarthey Athletic Center.  (COLIN MULVANY)

There was symmetry in Loyola Marymount’s rash of first-half turnovers.

The first came 10 seconds into the game. The 10th was committed with 10:10 left on the clock. The 13th and last of the opening 20 minutes came on the Lions’ final possession.

Gonzaga didn’t convert on every LMU miscue, but 16 of the Zags’ first 25 points were courtesy of turnovers. It fueled Gonzaga’s early double-digit lead that turned into a 92-58 West Coast Conference blowout Tuesday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

“Assistant coach (Stephen) Gentry gave us a great game plan and gave us almost every situation we were going to see,” Zags forward Ben Gregg said. “It was a team effort. We were switching things, communicating and connected on that end, which was nice to see.”

Gonzaga’s offense was equally effective.

“This was as good as we’ve played all year,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. “Our defensive intensity, attention to detail with the scouting report, our connectivity, our physicality.

“And we did a great job of just making the right basketball play at the offensive end. We’d come off (screens) and make our reads and if didn’t like it we’d throw it out, move it, move it and made another play, where we maybe haven’t done that very well this year. It was great to see.”

Gonzaga (16-5, 7-1 WCC) won its fifth straight. LMU (10-12, 3-5), which pulled off a 68-67 upset a year ago in the McCarthey Athletic Center, has dropped its last two games against the Zags by a combined 77 points.

The Zags entertain rival Saint Mary’s on Saturday. The first-place Gaels (16-6, 7-0) face Santa Clara (15-7, 6-1) in Moraga on Wednesday night. Santa Clara handed GU its only WCC loss.

Junior guard Nolan Hickman had another big game with four 3-pointers and a career-high 24 points. Hickman has made at least three 3s in seven of Gonzaga’s last eight games. He added five assists.

“I think his teammates are finding him and he’s doing a good job taking the right ones,” Few said. “As a group were taking the right ones and not trying maybe to make something out of nothing.”

Junior forward Graham Ike shook off slow starts in the previous two games by scoring six of GU’s first 10 points. He finished with 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting.

The Zags used a 13-2 spurt – the last three points coming on a Hickman triple after an LMU turnover – to move in front 25-12 midway through the first half.

“When you play with that kind of activity, that kind of energy and physicality on defense, usually good things will follow,” Few said.

Gonzaga was scoring at a high clip even without LMU’s generosity.

Gonzaga connected on 66.7% of its shots, 3 of 5 3-pointers and 10 of 12 free throws to take a 45-29 lead at halftime.

Then the Zags really heated up. GU made 9 of its first 10 shots to open the second half and went on a 23-2 burst that forced LMU to call two timeouts. Hickman hit two 3-pointers, Gregg added another and Ike chipped in three buckets as the Zags’ lead swelled to 68-31.

Gonzaga flirted with the school record for field-goal percentage (71.8% vs. Saint Mary’s) deep into the second half before finishing at 59%.

Former Gonzaga guard Dominick Harris struggled in his return to the Kennel. The 6-foot-3 guard, who leads LMU in scoring at 14.7 points, was scoreless in the first half with four turnovers. Two of his first three shots were swatted by former teammates Hickman and Anton Watson.

Harris scored his first points with 13:18 remaining with GU on top 68-31. He finished with 11 points.

Gonzaga finished with a 56-16 edge in paint points and a 29-2 advantage in points off turnovers. Five Zags scored in double figures as Gregg finished with 11 points and Watson and Braden Huff both contributed 10.

LMU committed a season-high 20 turnovers and made just 37.1% from the field. The Lions came in averaging 11.3 turnovers, 107th out of 351 nationally.

Gonzaga had a season-low five turnovers.

“We love to get out and run in transition,” Few said. “I think that was just our activity on defense that allowed us to do that. And we took phenomenal care of the ball. Our efficiency numbers were nuts, especially with that top group.”