LAS VEGAS (AP)
Bidding for a top seed in the NCAAs, the Bulldogs (30-2) advanced to play for the league championship Monday night against the winner of Saturday's late semifinal between Saint Mary's and San Diego.
Challenged in the first half by a team that went 1-15 in WCC play this season, Gonzaga turned up the defensive intensity and opened the second half on a 19-5 run to seize momentum.
Though it needed a last-second basket by Sam Dower to take a 27-26 lead into halftime, Gonzaga outscored the Lions 39-22 in the second half.
Kevin Pangos added 14 points, and Kelly Olynyk had eight points and eight rebounds for the Zags.
Anthony Ireland led Loyola Marymount (11-23) with 19 points.
After shooting 40 percent (8 of 20) from the field in the first half, including 4 of 10 from beyond the arc, the Lions shot a dismal 7 of 29 (24.1 percent) from the field in the second half. LMU was an abysmal 1 of 10 with 3-point attempts.
Conversely, the Zags turned around their horrendous first half of shooting — which saw them shoot just 9 of 24 from the field and 1 of 7 with 3's — and was a blistering 11 of 22 from the floor, including 4 of 7 from long range.
The Lions forced 45 turnovers — and committed only 32 — in their first three games of the tournament, but last night came up against a Gonzaga team much more disciplined than their previous foes, and bit more tenacious on defense. And while LMU committed 16 miscues, compared to Gonzaga's 13, the Bulldogs outscored the Lions 19-6 off turnovers.
Gonzaga also outrebounded the Lions 38-31, while outscoring them in the paint 28-12.
Much of the Zags' domination came in the second half, though, as LMU refused to go away over the first 20 minutes. The Lions held Gonzaga scoreless early on, for a little more than three minutes, while going on a 9-0 run to take a 14-9 lead. The Bulldogs returned the favor by going on a 7-0 run, while holding Loyola scoreless for a bit less than three minutes, to take a 16-14 lead.
From there the two continued to play back and forth while neither built a margin bigger than two points, with the lead changing hands seven times over the final 4:16 of the half.
The ninth-seeded Lions, who posted one win in the first two months of the calendar year, tripled that figure in the WCC tournament with three straight wins to get to the semifinals.
LMU knocked off No. 8 Portland 65-54 on Wednesday to wedge its way into the bracket. The Lions upset No. 5 San Francisco 61-60 in overtime on Thursday then stunned fourth-seeded Santa Clara 60-58 on Friday.
The Bulldogs, who earned the WCC's top seed for the 13th time, were the first team to go 16-0 in the league in the two years of the 16-game format. It was their fourth undefeated West Coast campaign, also going unbeaten in 2004, 2006 and 2009, when the conference played a 14-game schedule, prior to BYU joining the conference.