Gonzaga had revenge on its mind tonight as they made their debut in the 2010 West Coast Conference tournament. Less than a month ago, the Zags were upset by Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles and they weren’t about to let history repeat itself. In front of a capacity crowd at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, the Bulldogs took down the Lions of LMU by a score of 77-62.
The fifteen-point victory might be a bit deceiving to the average viewer as Loyola once again gave Mark Few’s team all they could handle. Playing the role of the aggressor, the Lions did not make life easy for Gonzaga star Matt Bouldin. The West Coast Conference player of the year was held to two points through the first half and finished with only 12 points, mostly coming in late parts of the game. Luckily for the Zags, Bouldin’s backcourt mate Steven Gray stepped up early and often. Gray finished with 18 points on 6-10 shooting and played a complete game on both ends of the court. He added seven assists and six rebounds to his impressive stat line. Freshman phenom Elias Harris also had a great game for the Zags. The German freshman import had 16 points, shot 100% from the field, and buried two three-pointers. He once again did a lot of his work from the free throw line, shooting 6-8. Newcomers Bol Kong and Mangisto Arop also had solid performances for the Bulldogs. Kong totaled nine points and drained some huge shots while Arop pulled down eight boards.
Loyola Marymount took a while to get going and that was the defining factor of the game. Once they woke up in the second half, it was too late. Small forward Drew Viney led the way for LMU with 15 points but the key for them was great balance. Four of their five starters were in double figures on the evening and they got gutty efforts from guys like Ashely Hamilton and Kevin Young. They were absolutely the enforcers for LMU tonight and if it weren’t for a few missed free throws late in the game, they could have really pushed for another upset. Regardless of tonight’s performance, this won’t be the last time you hear LMU making a big push in the WCC. The talent is there and with a few more years to gel, they will be a serious contender to make the NCAA Tournament.
Update: Saint Mary's has just defeated Portland by a score of 69-55 to reach the conference tournament finals for the second straight season. The Gaels were once again led by star center Omar Samhan who finished with 16 points and 13 points. Samhan's point total was matched by two other Gaels in a great show of balance as both Mickey McConnell and Matt Dellavedova scored 16 apiece as well. Where as Gonzaga's win over LMU was tighter than it appeared, this one could be classified as a rout.
The Pilots finish what has to go down as a relatively disappointing WCC season. They struggled with injuries and just could not live up to the early season hype which landed them a spot in the rankings as many thought they would be the ones to knock Gonzaga off the top of the conference.
As for Saint Mary's, they continue to impress the country in games not against Gonzaga and tomorrow night's championship game is of enormous importance to the Gaels. That win over Portland did little for their resume except to boos their confidence. They need to beat the Zags tomorrow night to get off that dreaded "bubble" they've been sitting on for the past few years. Randy Bennett will have to find a way to get one of the members of Saint Mary's supporting cast to have a big night. In previous games against Gonzaga, their guards have struggled mightily to get off open shots and take the pressure off Samhan. Dellavedova was able to get off for a bit in the first half of the initial match up but point guard Mickey McConnell has been quiet in both affairs.
As an interesting sidenote, both Omar Samhan and Gonzaga's Steven Gray were injured in their respective games. Omar rolled his ankle early on in the affair and Gray came down hard on his elbow and then jammed his fingers on the backboard against LMU. Samhan appears to be fine but Gray was heavily favoring that elbow after the game so it will be interesting to see how a night of rest affects those two injuries.