#552 Gonzaga University Bulldogsvs.#551 Loyola Marymount University Lions
Thursday, January 1 2017, at 9:00pm EST
Written by Matt Severance
Loyola Marymount Lions at No. 5 Gonzaga Bulldogs
When/Where: Thursday, 9 p.m. ET, McCarthey Athletic Center, Spokane
Spread: Gonzaga -22
And then there was one. As in unbeaten team in Division I college basketball. After No. 1 Baylor’s unsurprising loss at No. 10 West Virginia on Tuesday, the only school still with a zero in the loss column is No. 5 Gonzaga. The Bulldogs aren’t in any danger of being upset at home by Loyola on Thursday in West Coast Conference action but will they cover a big spread?
Loyola Marymount (8-7, 1-3 WCC) has played one other ranked team this season, losing 72-60 at home to then-No. 19 Saint Mary’s on Dec. 29. The Lions also have played UConn and lost that one 65-62 at home early in the season. LMU ended a three-game losing streak last time out, beating visiting Santa Clara 66-56. The Lions had a massive bench advantage of 39-2 and crushed Santa Clara 36-18 in points in the paint. Stefan Jovanovic had 14 points and Shamar Johnson added 12 points with eight rebounds for LMU. Kelvin Amayo added nine points and six rebounds while Brandon Brown had nine points and five assists. Jeffery McClendon was part of the Lions’ solid defense, adding seven points, five rebounds and two steals.
Loyola held Santa Clara to just 36.8 percent shooting and 8-for-30 from long range. LMU finished hitting 45.6 percent from the field, going 4-for-10 from three. They outscored the Broncos 16-7 off turnovers. That Santa Clara game was a rarity as eight of LMU’s last 12 games decided in the last 10 seconds of the game (record of 3-5). The Lions are 4-5 in games decided by less than seven points. The Lions are 7-1 when shooting better than their opponent, 7-1 when out-rebounding them and 7-1 when scoring more second chance points. All of which they did against Santa Clara. Brown leads the Lions with 13.9 ppg and 5.27 apg. Jovanovic has scored in double figures in 10 of the last 11 games and averages 11.3 ppg and 5.3 rpg.
Gonzaga (15-0, 3-0 WCC), off to the best start in school history, could conceivably rise to No. 1 in the new polls next week for the second time in school history if the Zags make it through the weekend unbeaten — they have a tough game at home Saturday vs. No. 21 Saint Mary’s. The Zags were supposed to play last Saturday at Portland but that was postponed by a winter storm in the Pacific Northwest. Gonzaga ranks 10th in the country holding opponents to 37.9 percent shooting from the field so far this season.
Nigel Williams-Goss was named the West Coast Conference Men’s Basketball Player of the Week Monday. He scored a career-high 36 points on 12-of-15 shooting from the field in the Zags’ win at San Francisco last Thursday. The redshirt junior recorded the team’s first double-double of the season by grabbing 11 rebounds as well. He dished out six assists to just one turnover in 35 minutes of playing time. Five Zags are averaging at least 10 points per game. The top seven scorers on the team are averaging between 8.3 and 15.3 points per outing. Gonzaga is the highest scoring team in the conference averaging 85.5 points a game, despite not having a player rank any higher than 10th among the conference scoring leaders. Jordan Mathews made 12 of his 25 three-point attempts in the first three West Coast Conference games of the season. His 12 total threes and four made three-pointers per game in conference action currently tops the league.
GU has won 14 straight vs. the Lions, and 19 of the last 20 meetings. The Bulldogs are 35-3 against LMU under Mark Few. Gonzaga rolled to a 92-63 win in the most recent meeting on Feb. 4 in Los Angeles last season. In last season’s meeting in Spokane, the Zags rolled to an 85-62 win on Dec. 23, 2015. GU has won 26 straight at home in the series. No question Gonzaga wins here but perhaps is caught looking toward Saint Mary’s.
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Matt has been a sports journalist for nearly two decades. He is a former sports editor/writer at two newspapers and a magazine. Went full-time freelance sports writer in 2008 -- not by choice then but became a life-changing decision in the best possible way. Consider myself expert on all major US sports. If you are looking for Curling or Badminton expertise, etc., I'm not your guy.