Senior Night has not always been kind to the Gonzaga Bulldogs. We all remember the 2015 and 2017 losses to BYU and the 2016 loss to Saint Mary’s. Saturday, scorching hot Loyola Marymount comes to town looking to add their name to that list.
Without looking at the normal WCC standings, who would you guess is in third place right now? If you guessed the 7-4 LMU Lions, you would be correct. Winners of five of their last six, including road wins at San Francisco and Pepperdine, the Lions enter Saturday on the cusp of breaking the top 100 in KenPom. It’s not often that two conference foes wait until the final day of the schedule to play each other for the first time, but these are the times in which we live.
Coming into the season, many people expected LMU to be the sleeper team of the WCC, and they’ve proven their worth over the last month since returning from a two-week Covid pause. First year head coach Stan Johnson has LMU playing great ball, despite only having six or seven players available on most nights.
They are led by an All-League performer in Eli Scott. The senior forward from Chino Hills, CA has averaged 21.6 points the last five games, including a career-high 37 in a win over Santa Clara last week. He’s also chipped in 5.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists in that stretch. He leads the conference in percentage of minutes played, fouls drawn, and usage rate. In two games against Gonzaga last season, he was 13-for-19 from the floor.
His bruising teammate Keli Leaupepe has been just as hot. The 6’6, 250 Australian with incredible hair, has five straight games in double figures with at least five rebounds in each contest. 7’3 Mattias Markusson is back after taking a year off to be around his family, and 6’8 Ivan Alipiev is a stretch forward who is second on the team in threes made. They don’t do many things better than average, but they don’t do anything poorly, and they are an elite rebounding team on both ends.
In short, they have a lot of big bodies just like Santa Clara, except with more athleticism. The Broncos had some success with their size on the offensive end on Thursday, relegating Drew Timme and Anton Watson to the bench for long portions of the game with foul trouble and sticking around for the full 40 minutes. There’s probably no better way for Gonzaga to adjust to that problem than by facing the same challenges on Saturday.
A win over LMU would be a program-record 51 straight home victories. It would also be the first undefeated regular season in school history and the first by any team since 2015 Kentucky. In all likelihood, this will be the final home game in the careers of Corey Kispert, Jalen Suggs, and Aaron Cook. It’s also possible this is the final time we see Joel Ayayi, and maybe even Drew Timme, lace up the sneakers in the McCarthey Athletic Center. Hopefully one day they can get a proper send off in front of a packed house. For now, at least they will have some family in the building.
Loyola Marymount vs #1 Gonzaga
Time: Saturday, 7 pm
TV: ESPN (Dave Flemming, Sean Farnham)
KenPom: 91-67 Gonzaga