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Game Preview: Gonzaga vs. LMU

Zags look to build off of Saturday’s hot shooting

NCAA Basketball: Portland at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

With the teams around them dropping like flies, the Zags are at a crucial point in the season and their hopes of a top seed in the upcoming tournament. They escaped a tough initial road trip and looked recalibrated at home against Portland. Now in the heart of conference play, the Zags can continue stacking wins while finally setting in together.

Meet the opponent

LMU Lions, 13-7 (3-3 WCC), KenPom #101, NET #100

Stan Johnson’s Lions were one of the sexy darkhorse picks last season, only to 11-18 for the season and 3-12 in the conference. This season, expectations were greatly tempered and Johnson’s team enters with already more wins on the year and just as many conference wins as they did last season.

LMU is led by senior guard Cam Shelton, who has flourished in the expanded role of lead decisionmaker of the offense. He is averaging 18.2 points, 4.7 assists and 5.9 rebounds per game while shooting an effective field goal rate of 53.6%. He also has the second-highest assist rate.

Shelton’s wingman this season is bruising big Keli Leaupepe, who has continued to develop and grow his game in a bigger role. Not only has Leaupepe increased his points and rebounds (14.4 and 6.9, respectively) with more minutes, he’s done so while becoming more efficient in shooting, getting to the line and taking care of the basketball. The big man is shooting and effective field goal percentage of 56% and 45% from outside. He’s cut his turnover rate to nearly half of last year’s and has the second-highest free throw rate in the conference.

What to watch for

Defending the perimeter

Gonzaga likely not to the shock of many who’ve watched the last couple of weeks’ worth of games, is ranked ninth in the conference in defensive three-point percentage at 40%. LMU has the third-highest three-point attempt rate in the conference behind San Francisco and Portland while having the highest hit rate of the three. Gonzaga giving open looks might make this game closer than it should be.

Taking advantage of the interior matchup

Where LMU truly struggles is protecting the basket on defense. The Lions are giving up over 51% inside the arc and is in the bottom third in block rate. This could be a game where no matter how many decent perimeter looks they get, Timme’s near-immediate response will keep them at arm’s length.