The Gonzaga Bulldogs donned their gray jerseys for the first time this season and proceeded to dispatch the Loyola Marymount Lions to the tune of 89-55.
Chet Holmgren followed up last week’s monster performance that earned him WCC Freshman of the Week honors with another eye-catching outing (21 pts including 3-3 3FG, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks) that makes you wonder how he could be anything but the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft this summer. He was joined by fellow freshmen Nolan Hickman (11 points, 3 rebounds) and Hunter Sallis (7 points, 3 rebounds) who had impressive performances of their own despite playing less than 20 minutes each. Rasir Bolton and Julian Strawther each had 10 points apiece.
The first half of the first half wasn’t the Gonzaga basketball we’ve come to know and love. LMU controlled the pace and rhythm of the game, holding the Zags to single digits through the opening nine minutes by limiting transition opportunities and attacking the glass with physicality.
Perhaps the lethargy was due to the extra time off after the Zags didn’t play a game last Saturday. Or, maybe, the Lions are a proud group and felt inspired after a humbling 32-point beatdown at the hands of Saint Mary’s over the weekend. Whatever it was, it wasn’t what you wanted to see if you are a Gonzaga fan.
Fortunately, as they typically do in conference play, the Zags asserted themselves and took control of the game. They broke free of their malaise and their patented “spurtability” made an appearance thanks to increased aggression and pressure on the defensive end of the floor which shackled LMU’s ballhandlers.
You have to feel for Loyola Marymount, much like USF last week, they played a near-perfect quarter of basketball and in just a few minutes were staring down the barrel of a double-digit deficit despite Gonzaga producing an offensive performance that could mostly be described as “meh.”
What wasn’t so meh was Gonzaga’s effort as the game moved along. They could have simply relied on their talent alone to get through the game and that probably would have been enough. But, they embraced the grind and fought for loose balls, tipped passes, battled for position on the blocks with Leaupepe and Scott, and showed that despite their ranking and preference for beautiful free-flowing basketball, they weren’t above playing with effort.
Despite the grit and effort, you know what else helps? A 7-footer dropping in a couple of threes while also locking up the paint. There’s not really much you can do about that, and for poor LMU, that spelled the end of any hopes for a competitive outcome as the second half passed along.