For a while there, EDZ and I looked pretty smart being on the Loyolya Marymount hype-based bandwagon. The Lions played an outstanding first half of basketball as they really frustrated Gonzaga's shot selection, finished plays on the offensive end, and generally just outworked Mark Few's club. Tied at halftime, every Gonzaga fan had to be scratching their heads about what was happening to their team in the past few games. In the second half, however, the Zags opened up with a 14-5 lead and never looked back as they went on to defeat the Lions of LMU by a score of 85-69. The Bulldogs were sparked by their usual core of starters but received some great contributions from Grant Gibbs and the rest of the bench squad.
Loyola Marymount gave Gonzaga their best shot in the first half. Led by Vernon Teel who had 16 first half points, the Lions really subdued the typically raucous McCarthey Athletic Center. In that half, LMU shot 53% from the floor and came out with a very nice zone defense that really made the Bulldogs work for every shot, especially Elias Harris. Although he finished with another gorgeous statline (22 points on 8-12 shooting and 8 rebounds) I really though LMU did everything they could to try and stop him. They jumped passing lanes and generally caused havoc down low but they just don't have anyone that can match Elias' physical force and it showed this evening in Spokane. Harris was outstanding in every facet. He ran the court well and got a number of buckets in transition, made the pass when he had to, and is literally becoming unstoppable in the conference. I do believe that Matt Bouldin's biggest competition this year for conference player of the year is his German teammate.
Speaking of Bouldin, he had another nice offensive evening going 6-12 from the floor and ending up with 19 points. He made some big buckets when Gonzaga was on the ropes in the first half and provided a sense of calmness to this young team. He also added six boards and four assists to fill up the stat sheet for the Zags. I also thought that Steven Gray had another excellent game. I don't know what it has been recently but Steven seems to have added another level to his game. He's been extremely active and is showing more and more leadership as the year matures. He's obviously not the sharp shooter that we all thought he was two years ago but his game around the rim has improved so much that he really no longer needs to rely on the deep ball, unless it comes in rhythm. He had 18 points tonight as well as five boards and four assists. Demetri Goodson didn't see a whole lot of time or make a huge impact but I thought he played well when he was in there. LMU did a nice job of forcing Demetri to switch off Vernon Teel so he could get freed up but overall, I'll take any game where Meech has zero turnovers. The one place I think Gonzaga should utilize Meech more is when he is in the corner on offense. There isn't a defender that can stop him in the conference and I like that he can get to the rack and then kick it out to either Steven or Matt if there is no shot attempt.
I feel like my game recaps are becoming monotonous. It always starts with Elias and the progresses on to Matt and Steven. I guess that's a good thing, however, as those three have really established themselves as the "go-to" guys for the Bulldogs. Harris' front court mate Robert Sacre looked better tonight I thought. His defense was pretty sound in the paint as he ended up with three blocks. The zone defense really took him out of the early flow of the offense more than anyone. He was constantly fronted and the offense just never came through him. He only played 26 minutes but came down with eight rebounds which shouldn't be surprising considering LMU's overall lack of size. He still struggles on the offensive end dealing with that first contact and finishing strong but his post moves are obviously well developed if you compare them to when he arrived at Gonzaga.
The bench was my biggest positive tonight. In case you haven't noticed, I love what Mangisto Arop brings this team and I love what Grant Gibbs brought this team tonight. You might be a little perplexed by my Manny praise if you didn't watch the game but his six minutes really impressed me, as he has all year. He is constantly moving, crashing the boards, and generally working for his team. Grant showed the same the same tenacity tonight as well. You could almost see him think "there's no way I'm coming out of this game". He attacked the boards, had a few nice offensive rebounds for and-one attempts, and looked comfortable out there which has been a rarity since Davidson. I'm not going to sit here and write that Grant should start above Meech as this teams point guard but I think you saw some flashes tonight that warranted his hype coming out of Iowa. Don't forget that Grant was one of the highest rated point guards in 2008. He's got skill and I really enjoy what he brings as far as court vision goes. I'm very confident with him and Mangisto possibly roaming the back court in the future.
I mentioned earlier that these recaps, especially in the WCC, may get monotonous. With that being said, I've got to harp on the free throw shooting a bit more. Gonzaga missed 14 free throws tonight to shoot a whopping 63%. Rob Sacre and Elias Harris combined for seven misses. Kelly Olynyk and Grant Gibbs combined for five of their own off the bench. The point may be moot as there really hasn't been any improvement over the season but I would not be surprised if teams really start fouling guys like Elias Harris and Rob Sacre hard just to send them to the line. Might as well take your chances and send them to the line, especially in Harris' case. I don't know of a player in this conference, save for Dior Lowhorn, that can match his skill set and size combo.
Gonzaga is now the proud owner of an eight game win streak and will be traveling down to the Bay Area next week for road games against Santa Clara and San Francisco.