The Zags will be looking to build off of the fantastic WCC opener against Pepperdine. Considering how this team has operated, I highly doubt there was a human being in the universe that imagined the Zags racing out to a 37-9 lead under a lethal barrage of threes. Gonzaga ended up winning the game, 99-73, led by great games from Domantas Sabonis and Josh Perkins.
LMU, on the other hand, did not have a great start to their WCC play. The Lions were absolutely throttled by Portland on Monday. Portland used a 23-0 run to take control of the game, and led by as much as 31 points.
Meet the opponent
Loyola Marymount Lions, 7-5, KenPom #222
The Lions get a majority of their scoring from three people: junior guard Brandon Brown, sophomore winger Steve Haney, and junior forward Adom Jacko. After that, each game, it is a hodge podge assortment of supporting roles that fill in the rest of the team. Coach Mike Dunlap runs an incredibly deep rotation, with 11 players averaging at least 10 minutes per game.
A majority of plays go through Brown's hands. The guard is averaging 13.7 points and 5.9 assists per game. He is one of the better passing point guards in the conference, and also one of the more aggressive defenders. Brown also has 16 steals on the season. Unlike the GU guards, he can also hit his free throws, but sort of like the GU guards, he struggles from the three point line.
In fact, much of LMU struggles from the three point line. Steve Haney is going to throw up a senseless amount of threes, averaging nearly eight attempts per game. He only hits three of those each time, however. The Zags should still keep an eye on Haney, because every now and then, he does decide to start hitting the shot. Against Cal State Fullerton he finished with 26 points and went 7-of-12 from beyond the arc.
Jacko and Marin Mornar share the poor responsibility of trying to contain Domantas Sabonis down low. Each player is a couple inches undersized, and the Zags should have a pretty good height advantage in this game. Jacko is aggressive on offense, but his defense leaves a bit to be desired. He goes after every offensive rebound, with 31 of his 39 total rebounds coming on the offensive end. The Zags driving into the lane will need to keep their eye on Mornar as well, who is fourth in the WCC with 1.4 blocks per game.
What to watch out for
Is there anyone who can stop Domantas Sabonis right now?
The short answer is no. In his past three games, Sabonis is averaging 26.6 points and 12 rebounds while shooting 70.4 percent from the floor (and 100 percent from beyond the arc). You could easily make the case that right now, there isn't a single forward in NCAA playing better than our forward is. Sabonis is taking everything that teams throw at him, double teams, triple teams, and making it seem like child's play. There is no reason to suggest that LMU will be able to do any better.
Has the backcourt finally rounded into form?
If someone would've told me on Monday night that Kyle Wiltjer was only going to score nine points, I would've handed them the keys to the blog and say enjoy writing up that loss. For once, finally, that wasn't the case. The Zags got a huge game from Josh Perkins as well as solid efforts from Eric McClellan and Silas Melson. For Perkins and Melson, Monday night was huge, especially Perkins. Gonzaga's season hinges on how well their freshman point guard performs, and on Monday night, he finally performed for an entire game like we thought he could.
Here is what we have going on. In Perkins' last four games, he has only had three turnovers. In McClellan's last five games, he has averaged 12.4 points. Melson's progress has been a bit slower, but with Alberts seeing time on the court, it is allowing those two guards time to find their roles and take good shots (always be taking good shots).
Improved guard play is important for so many reasons, but also this one specifically: it destroys opponents' game plan against the Zags. We were seeing it early on in games. Teams didn't need to respect our guards. Basically, it was contain Wiltjer and Sabonis as much as possible and force the other guys to win. If teams have to start respecting our outside shot and the threat of penetration, that whole game plan goes out the window.
So on that note, it would be lovely to see good games from the backcourt again. If Perkins and Melson both go into the break with two solid efforts, that will do wonders for their confidence. Again, we have all seen that both these players are good basketball players. Now we just need to coax it out of them in a consistent manner.
LMU won't be able to hang with the Zags. But a quiet arena will also help out in them not getting absolutely destroyed.
Gonzaga 80, LMU 65