Seniors, Zags Cap Perfect Home Season; Clinch WCC Title Tie
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - Sam Dower Jr. scored 25 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to lead Gonzaga to an 86-67 victory over Loyola Marymount Saturday night, clinching at least a tie for the West Coast Conference regular season championship.
Brigham Young's 60-57 victory over Saint Mary's left both those teams four games behind Gonzaga with four games remaining. It's the Bulldogs' 13th regular-season title in the last 14 years.
Kevin Pangos added 17 points as the Bulldogs (23-4, 13-1 WCC) finished a season undefeated at home for the first time since 2006.
"To finish the season undefeated at home; I don’t know how many teams in college basketball can do that but it’s not many so that’s an accomplishment," Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. "The fact we’re 23-4 at this point in the season we might have had maybe three groups that had had that record at this point in the season and to clinch a league title the second week of February is an accomplishment, too. We have a lot of other things we want to accomplish this season so we have to start moving on to those. They need to enjoy it, feel good about it and feel really proud about what they’ve done thus far this year."
Anthony Ireland had 23 points for Loyola Marymount (11-16, 3-12), which lost its sixth straight game and 12th in the last 13 outings.
LMU's Evan Payne had three baskets, including a 3-pointer, and the Lions took advantage of three Gonzaga turnovers in the opening minutes before the Bulldogs put together a 13-2 run, with Pangos making a pair of 3-pointers.
Dower and Przemek Karnowski combined for eight points in a 10-0 Gonzaga burst that allowed the Bulldogs to ease out to a 45-31 halftime lead.
Back-to-back baskets by Gabe Levin helped the Lions pull within 52-44, and they were still just nine points down until Dower took over inside, scoring Gonzaga's next 14 points.
Levin and Payne, both freshmen, finished with 17 points each for Loyola Marymount, and Ireland became the school's No. 3 career scorer with 2,077 points behind Hank Gathers (2,490) and Terrell Lowery (2,201).
Dower's fifth double-double of the season came on his Senior Night at Gonzaga, which was highlighted by the surprise return of former teammate Kelly Olynyk. Olynyk bypassed his senior year to enter the NBA draft, becoming the No. 1 pick of the Boston Celtics. He played in the NBA's Rising Stars Challenge in New Orleans on Friday night before flying to Spokane to take part in the ceremony.
Few said it was a special Senior Night.
"It was great. It was the way you want to send your seniors out. You want to send them out with a win, that’s the most important thing. Kelly (Olynyk) showing up made it one of the all-time great ones right up there with J.P. Batista’s brother coming in from Brazil. That made it unbelievably special and just shows you how great a guy Kelly is and how much he loves this program," Few said.
The seniors echoed those sentiments.
"It was cool," David Stockton said of Olynyk's return. "I didn’t know he was here. He showed up during shootaround so that was pretty cool. Quite an effort to make it from New Orleans."
Dower might have been the most surprised of all.
"Definitely a surprise. I was texting him yesterday (Friday). He told me he was staying for the All-Star game and the next thing I know this goof ball is at shootaround today and that was good. It helped with spirit of the whole gym having Kelly back, got people into the game," Dower noted.
Drew Barham said the entire night was "a fun experience. Not too many people get to experience what we got to do tonight. Overall it was a great game, everybody got to play and it was a great time," said the transfer from Memphis who played his last two seasons in a Gonzaga uniform.
Brian Bhaskar hit the shot of the night, the seldom-used senior draining a late 3-point shot.
"I knew once I had the ball in my hands they were going to try and steal it from me because they saw I was deer in the headlights. It was a pass to Lucas (Meikle), tried to break the press and he passed it right back. I didn’t really think about it but thought why not. It went in; greatest felling in my life. I’m still kind of thinking about it and shaking about it," Bhaskar said. "We’re best friends, greatest teammates. The more I think about it it’s sad; I’m going to miss it. They are my best friends and the fact they were excited for me means so much and getting bombarded by the huddle at the end with my best friends."
Gary Bell Jr. added 14 points for Gonzaga, and Karnowski scored 11. The Bulldogs shot 47 percent from the field, and outrebounded LMU 40-25.
As for the game, Few expected a tight contest.
"We knew it was going to be a scrappy, hard-fought game. Anytime you play Loyola and Anthony Ireland and a Max Good-coached team we knew it was going to be just like that," Few explained. "I thought for the most part we just kept our heads, hung in there. It wasn’t pretty but we stuck with the plan and got it done. We knew we had an advantage with our bigs and we tried to go there as many times as we can even though they were collapsing in there."
Loyola Marymount shot 44 percent from the floor.an accomplishment.
Gonzaga's 24 straight victories in the McCarthey Athletic Center is the fourth longest NCAA Division I home-court winning streak. The Bulldogs have won 28 consecutive WCC home games.