USA TODAY Sports
Mark Few's club has been the class of the West Coast Conference this season so far, can they keep it going on the road in Los Angeles?
As they head down to Southern California for one of their final road trips, things could not be going much better for Gonzaga. Ranked No. 7 and holding a 19-2 record, the Bulldogs have proven to be one of the top teams in the country. That said, strange things can happen on the road in the West Coast Conference and the Zags can't afford any setbacks if they hope to garner a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The first stop in Southern California is 8-12 Loyola Marymount. The Lions are currently fighting to stay out of the cellar in the WCC with a 1-6 record and are riding a four game losing streak. They'll look to right the ship against Gonzaga but it won't be easy as they'll need to play about 200% better than they have played all season long to pull off the upset.
If LMU is going to have any shot at pulling off the upset, it is going to need Anthony Ireland to get on track. The junior guard has become one of the most prolific scorers on the West Coast but he has slumped as of late. In the Lions' last two losses, Ireland has only averaged 13 points per game on 8-29 shooting from the floor. That is off from his typical 20 points per night trend and he is going to need to do his best Brandon Paul impression to take down the Bulldogs. If Gonzaga is able to slow down Ireland and hold him to similar stats as he put up in their last two losses, we could be in for one of the biggest routs of the entire season.
While a valiant performance from Ireland could be enough to make the Zags sweat, it remains to be seen if they have enough on both ends of the court to beat the Bulldogs. LMU is not only one of the worst shooting teams in the country, they are also one of the worst defensive teams. They've shot about 44% from two-point range this season which is good enough to have them around 300th in the nation and they aren't ranked much higher from beyond the arc. On the flip side, their defense has allowed the opposition to absolutely abuse them from beyond the arc. To this point, LMU is allowing their opponents to shoot about 37% from three point range which is nearly the worst mark in the country. There will need to be a sizable trend change if LMU wants to put up a fight.
For the Zags, and this will be the case in many of the remaining games, they simply need to keep their effort level high and avoid letdowns. Holding a 22 point lead at halftime, the Zags were outscored 31-23 in the second half by San Francisco. While this may not be concerning to some, that type of second half on the road could be catastrophic for the Zags. Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris should be able to pick apart the undersized Lions frontline from the get go and I would expect Kevin Pangos and hopefully Gary Bell to get loose and drain some threes. In the end, I see this being a rout that is hopefully over by halftime...and doesn't have that second half letdown.