Struggling LMU is next team in No. 1 Gonzaga’s headlights

NCAA Basketball
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Top-ranked Gonzaga is steaming toward another West Coast Conference title and another high seed come NCAA Tournament time.

Heading into Thursday’s game against San Diego, the Bulldogs’ offense was humming to the tune of 87.5 points per game, best among Division 1 schools. That average will inch higher after the Bulldogs (17-1, 3-0) dispatched the Toreros, 94-50.

Standing in the Bulldogs’ way come Saturday night is Loyola Marymount, a team that ranks 289th in the nation by scoring only 66.8 points per game.

Loyola Marymount (7-9, 1-1) hasn’t played since being drilled 63-38 at BYU on Jan. 4.

The rebuilding Lions know what lies ahead.

“I think a lot of people have us for dead,” LMU head coach Mike Dunlap told Loyolan.com. “We’re the true underdog all the way through the year, and that’s a great position to be in. Our players are smart enough to know that.”

Dunlap hopes his team shows improvement as the season progresses.

“As far as whatever this (year’s) team is, (we will be) dramatically improved and different in January,” Dunlap said. “And we know that because we’re going to take big jumps, (and) because we’re mixing a very new group together. But we’re excited about that because our leadership is in place.”

Eli Scott is the unquestioned leader. He comes in averaging 16.1 points, 4.7 assists and 6.4 rebounds per game. In the blowout loss to BYU, Scott scored 15 points and grabbed six boards before being pulled from the game with four minutes remaining.

Dunlap will be counting on Scott and Ivan Alipiev (11.0 points) if the Lions are to have a chance to beat Gonzaga for the first time since 2010.

The Bulldogs won the last time the two teams met, defeating the Lions 73-60 on Feb. 14. LMU led in the second half until the Bulldogs went on a 20-6 run to pull out the win.

Despite their near-perfect record — Gonzaga’s only loss was to Michigan — the Bulldogs have been far from perfect, especially against opponents seemingly outmatched.

“We’re 2-0 (in conference),” coach Mark Few said before Thursday’s win against San Diego. “At end of the day you’re supposed to have more points than the opponents, and that’s what we did. We’ll keep trying to get better.”

Against Portland and Pepperdine, two teams in the lower half of the conference, Gonzaga lacked intensity and struggled to put them away.

“We turned the ball over way, way, way too much,” Few lamented after the Pepperdine win. “We tried too hard and were missing some things on offense.”

Against the Toreros, the Bulldogs were better, much better.

Joel Ayayi led the way with 20 points. Filip Petrusev, who this week was added to the midseason watch list for the 2020 Wooden award, scored 17 points.

There was no lack of focus like there was in the Bulldogs’ previous two games, and the offense appears to be back on track.

“It’s not something you really practice, it’s something that you have during the game,” Killian Tillie told spokesman.com. “That’s what we did at Portland. It was tough the first half, but then we were fired up in the locker room and fired up in the second half.

“It was kind of the same (against Pepperdine). Everybody has to do hustle plays, get the crowd going and that’s how you get intensity.”

–Field Level Media

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