Gonzaga laying an egg in the quarterfinals of the WCC Tournament is a tradition unlike any other. But even though it wasn’t the dominant performance most would have liked to see, the Zags once again find themselves in the conference semifinals after an 83-69 win over Loyola Marymount.
Gonzaga’s interior duo of Killian Tillie and Johnathan Williams shot the leather off the ball, combining to shoot 17-23 from the field. Tillie led the Bulldogs in scoring with 24 points and 7 rebounds, including a perfect 5-5 from the three-point line, and Williams posted a strong double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Zach Norvell was also highly effective with 17 points (6-8 FG) and 5 rebounds, despite playing with foul trouble for much of the game. James Batemon of LMU led all scorers with 27 points.
The first half was almost offensive to watch, mostly because it featured minimal-to-no quality offense. The Zags coughed up the ball 10 times through the first 20 minutes. For a team that averages 11 turnovers a game, that pace was more than a little alarming. If it wasn’t for Tillie, the first half would have been a complete dumpster fire for the WCC’s #1 team.
After a nearly 10-minute stretch where the Zags were only able to make a single field goal (including a nearly 5-minute stretch where neither team scored a single point), Tillie pulled Gonzaga from the dredges with a personal eight point run that injected some life into a very moribund team and helped the Bulldogs limp into the break with a narrow 29-28 lead.
Gonzaga’s cure to its first half ills was a steady diet of Williams out of the break. The senior big man made five of Gonzaga’s first seven made field goals in the second half, and the offense suddenly began to function like a Top-10 team in the country. While Mark Few’s halftime adjustments were paying off in spades, the defense suddenly found stops unattainable.
LMU’s James Batemon was ready and able to answer each of Williams’ baskets with one of his own. Batemon broke down the Gonzaga defense far too frequently and accounted for nine of LMU’s first twelve points in the second half as the game quickly went from a slow burn in the first half to a barnburner in the second.
Despite the Zags shooting approximately 1000% percent from the field in the second half, separation was hard to come by with LMU matching Gonzaga basket for basket. For a moment, it looked like a Tillie-Hachimura salvo midway through the second half was the big blow Gonzaga needed to put away LMU, but not so.
Once again it was Batemon who reeled Gonzaga back in as he scored nine consecutive points to get LMU back within five points with seven minutes to go. But that was as close as the Lions would be again as the game-ending run finally materialized when the Zags went on a 10-0 run in a blink of an eye to shut the door on pesky LMU.
Gonzaga will square off next against the San Francisco Dons on Monday in the semifinals of the WCC Tournament.