The congratulatory texts flooded Mark Few's cellphone, and Sports Illustrated lined up next week's regional cover with Kelly Olynyk, and...
LAS VEGAS — The congratulatory texts flooded Mark Few’s cellphone, and Sports Illustrated lined up next week’s regional cover with Kelly Olynyk, and Gonzaga got some face time Saturday on ESPN’s “College Basketball GameDay.”
All in Zagland was just seashells and balloons. But, oh yeah, then they had another game to play.
For a half, America’s curiosity-seekers had to wonder what all the fuss was about. But then the Zags, playing for the first time as a No. 1-ranked team, wriggled free of the cobwebs and ran away from Loyola Marymount to claim a 66-48 victory in the West Coast Conference tournament semis.
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“These games are gonna be tough in March,” sighed Few, the Gonzaga coach.
Apparently, even against Loyola. For 20 minutes, the Zags looked a lot more like the 214th-best team in the nation, or the RPI number attached to LMU, the ninth-seeded team in the WCC that won a solitary game in regular-season league play before dispatching three straight teams here.
Who knows where the fault lay? Maybe the Zags got a little too full of themselves, although Kevin Pangos, the point guard, swore it was no different playing as the top-ranked outfit.
“Not at all,” said Pangos, whose team will play Saint Mary’s in the title game Monday. “It was an honor, but it’s just a number. We didn’t think it was pressure at all.”
Maybe it was more a case of jitters, the small downside of having a double bye in this tournament when the opponent has a rhythm going. In any case, the Zags were decidedly ordinary in the first half, starting out 4 of 17 from the field, trading the lead and finally settling for a 27-26 edge at intermission — nothing to turn heads of the skeptics.
“I don’t know what it was,” Pangos said. “We weren’t having fun in the first half.”
The Lions encountered foul trouble, but it didn’t seem to matter who they had on the floor, it was enough to offset the Zags.
Of course, everything changed after the break. Gonzaga led 32-31 when it went on a crackling 14-0 run punctuated by Pangos pushing the ball, Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. hitting threes — the team had hit just 1 of 7 in the first half — and Gonzaga switching to a zone defense that helped contain the Lions.
“We were trying to get him to push it in the first half,” Few said, referring to Pangos.
Once GU created some separation, it was routine the rest of the way. Elias Harris muscled around the basket for a game-high 21 points, and LMU’s shooting — just 30.6 percent — stopped the Lions’ postseason run short of a miracle.
Few paid his respects to Loyola. At 11-23, the Lions would hardly contend in the Big Ten, but they’re clearly more talented than a one-victory team in a modestly regarded league. Somehow, they lost at home to Gonzaga, 88-43, on Jan. 31, and Friday night, LMU guard Anthony Ireland said, “We’re a different team than we were during the season. I don’t know what clicked, but it’s working.”
When it was over, Few was left to assess two milestones heretofore unknown to his program: The No. 1 ranking and the reaction thereto, and the fact this just became the first 30-victory team in the history of the program.
“I was kind of surprised at how many of my (coaching) colleagues reached out to me,” said Few, referring to the No. 1 vote. He smiled sheepishly and said, “I’ve adjusted my thoughts on it.”
The 30-win threshold, though, needed no attitude adjustment. The only other 30-win season in state Division 1 history is the 32-5 by Seattle University during the sophomore year of the O’Brien twins in 1950-51.
Gonzaga had 29-4 seasons in 2002 and 2006, each ended by a bitter, unexpected loss in the NCAA tournament.
“Thirty wins is monumental,” Few said. “Anytime you get those things that show a whole four to five months of work, that’s pretty big. And it wasn’t a bunch of cupcakes.”
Loyola had that confectionery look, but appearances can be deceiving. It is, after all, March.
LOYOLA MARYMOUNT (11-23) — Walker 1-5 0-0 3, Ireland 5-12 6-6 19, Hamilton 2-11 1-4 5, Osborne 3-6 1-2 7, Okonji 0-3 2-2 2, English 1-4 0-1 2, Stover 2-7 3-4 8, Drexler 0-0 0-0 0, Flint 0-0 0-0 0, Mornar 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 15-49 13-19 48.
GONZAGA (30-2) — Pangos 5-9 2-3 14, Bell, Jr. 2-6 2-4 8, Olynyk 3-10 2-2 8, Harris 6-9 8-12 21, Hart 0-0 0-0 0, Dranginis 0-0 0-0 0, Edi 0-0 4-4 4, Stockton 0-3 0-2 0, Karnowski 1-1 3-4 5, Dower 3-7 0-0 6, Barham 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-46 21-31 66.
Halftime — Gonzaga 27-26. Three-point goals — Loyola Marymount 5-20 (Ireland 3-6, Walker 1-5, Stover 1-5, Hamilton 0-2, English 0-2), Gonzaga 5-14 (Pangos 2-4, Bell, Jr. 2-5, Harris 1-3, Dower 0-1, Barham 0-1). Fouled out — Hamilton. Rebounds — Loyola Marymount 31 (Stover 7), Gonzaga 38 (Harris, Olynyk 8). Assists — Loyola Marymount 6 (English, Ireland 2), Gonzaga 12 (Olynyk, Stockton 4). Total fouls — Loyola Marymount 24, Gonzaga 18. A — 7,896.