The Gonzaga Bulldogs got their hardest fought WCC contest in quite some time by a resilient LMU squad, ultimately pulling away, 73-60, to remain undefeated in conference play.
The Zags opened with a completely listless first half, going into the break leading 32-31. It was the lowest first half point total of the season and the closest spread of any of Gonzaga’s WCC contest by a large margin.
Credit due to LMU here, because the Lions completely dictated the terms of the first half of play. LMU was patient on offense, and threw a defensive switch on nearly every possession Gonzaga saw. The Zags’ offense just couldn’t figure anything out—getting to the point where Brandon Clarke even missed a gimme dunk.
Things started to look a bit different in the second half. After shooting an atrocious 32 percent from the floor and 18 percent from long range, the Zags game plan was clear: Clarke and Rui Hachimura are going to single-handedly (double-handedly?) win this game. The Zags started to feed the ball consistently into the post, specifically to Hachimura, and wait for the guards to heat up. As you would expect, Zach Norvell caught fire in the second half, scoring 10 points and hitting two big threes (after shooting just three shot attempts in the first half). Clarke and Hachimura combined for 39 of Gonzaga’s points.
It was a weird feeling to watch this game, especially after watching Gonzaga crush its WCC competition so often. LMU came in with a game plan and executed it to the most perfect detail, and they were able keep the game much closer than most Gonzaga fans would like. Have to give a lot of credit to LMU here for that. The Lions came ready to play, and by a large part, caught Gonzaga a bit off guard because of it.
The biggest frame of reference for that effort was on the offensive glass. LMU finished with 15 offensive rebounds and 18 second-chance points. While Gonzaga’s offense was sputtering and getting just one shot attempt per possession, LMU was hustling down rebounds and setting up for another 30 seconds.
Despite the close score for a majority of the game, the Zags never let it seem like the game was slipping away at any point, and perhaps this might be one of the more influential games of conference play. We can’t expect Gonzaga to roll through the competition, winning by 31 points every game. But we can expect a better effort than tonight.
The box score will say that Gonzaga held LMU to 38 percent shooting, but the Lions also went 1-of-7 to close out the game. The Gonzaga defense forced just five turnovers, tying the lowest amount of the season with that “narrow” win at San Francisco earlier this year. LMU got good looks, would get offensive rebounds, and get even better looks all night long.
In the end, the power duo of Clarke and Hachimura was too much to handle for the Lions, and the Zags can move onto face San Diego, another potentially tough road environment, on Saturday.