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Gonzaga vs. LMU game preview: Tour of sunny California continues

The Zags looked sharp on Thursday, LMU did not.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Pepperdine Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs tour through southern California continues with a game against the LMU Lions on Saturday.

Gonzaga is coming off of a tidy victory over Pepperdine on Thursday evening. Killian Tillie led all scorers in the game with 22 points, and the Zags were in a definitively good cruise control mode after getting some jitters out in the first five minutes.

Things weren’t so good for LMU, on the other hand. The Lions only mustered 49 points against Santa Clara, a big step back from the 82 points in an overtime loss to Pacific. LMU has now lost five-straight, and seven of their last eight games.

Meet the opponent

LMU Lions, 5-9, KenPom #247

Again, like a lot of the lower rung teams in the WCC, LMU’s problems immediately extend from its defense. The Lions are ranked No. 303 in overall defensive efficiency according to Ken Pomeroy, and that breaks down pretty brutally at the two-point percentage—ranked No. 334 in the nation.

However, the Lions do present some challenges for the Zags. Specifically, LMU likes to generate some steals. We have seen the Zags struggle all season with turnovers. After two straight games of single-digit totals, the Zags finished with 12 turnovers against Pepperdine.

The Lions are also one of the most aggressive offensive rebounding teams in the nation. No, seriously, they are. LMU is ranked No. 4 in offensive rebounding percentage, with players like Eli Scott, Petr Herman, and Zafir Williams leading the charge. The Gonzaga frontcourt will need to remember the fundamentals of boxing out, because LMU is going to force this issue.

The bulk of the offense comes from junior guard James Batemon, and forwards Scott and Steven Haney. LMU isn’t a very good three-point shooting team, so this is a game that will be decided down low.

What to watch out for

The evolution of Rui Hachimura.

Rui finished with 12 points against Pepperdine, with eight of those points coming off of quick put backs at the rim. That makes four-straight games with 10+ points for Hachimura, and he is showcasing his potential in a consistent way finally. Hachimura has always been incredibly talented, we all knew that, he just needed time to put it all together. It looks like that time is starting to materialize in conference play.

This team is finally healthy again.

Granted, it was only one injury to Corey Kispert, but now that Kispert is back, the Zags are at full strength. Kispert provides a solid stat-stuffing box score, and his presence in the lineup is invaluable. Against Pepperdine, he finished with nine points, five rebounds, and two assists. He missed a few threes, but a majority of the team was doing that. Kispert’s return will put the pressure on Norvell to excel. Few has left Norvell in the starting lineup, but it is comforting for us fans to know that there is some flexibility here depending on the opponent.

More minutes for Jesse Wade!

After playing 13 minutes against Santa Clara, Wade only mustered five minutes against Pepperdine. He came out shooting, taking three three-point attempts. He made one and finished with another free throw for four points. After sitting for basically the entirety of the non-conference schedule, the Zags need to find somewhat meaningful minutes for Wade, even if that means he is only spelling Josh Perkins for two minutes at a time. Point guard is where the Zags have little wiggle room, and if Wade can help alleviate that issue, he needs the minutes to get ready.