With one more win, Gonzaga can extend its West Coast Conference reign into a ninth season. The Bulldogs have ruled over Loyola Marymount at home for significantly longer.
Looking to clinch a share of its ninth consecutive WCC regular-season title, 17th-ranked Gonzaga also tries for an 18th straight home win over the woeful Lions on Thursday night.
The Bulldogs (19-5, 10-0) haven’t lost to Loyola Marymount at the McCarthey Athletic Center since a 91-79 defeat in 1991, and that looks unlikely to change against one of the nation’s worst teams. The only program with a worse record than the Lions (2-24, 1-9) is the New Jersey Institute of Technology, which is 1-25.
Gonzaga has a three-game lead atop the conference with four WCC games remaining and will capture at least a share of the league title by winning Thursday, and can claim it outright if second-place Portland loses to Pepperdine. A ninth straight regular-season conference championship would tie for fourth-best all-time with Kentucky, which claimed nine consecutive SEC crowns from 1944-52.
The Bulldogs also look to reach 20 wins for a 12th season in a row and enter Thursday’s game with 17 straight conference victories in the regular season.
However, another struggling opponent took the Bulldogs to the wire Saturday night as Gonzaga needed Austin Daye’s five free throws in the final 27.8 seconds for a 78-73 road win over San Francisco, which is 1-10 in league play.
Though they held the Dons to 40.4 percent shooting, the Bulldogs also let them hit 14 3-pointers and forced a season-low nine turnovers. Gonzaga committed turnovers on its first four possessions of the game.
“We didn’t overlook them,” said Daye, who had 17 points and nine rebounds. “We just didn’t get out on their 3-point shooters and made some really dumb turnovers early. Other than that we didn’t play poorly. San Francisco just played really well.”
The Bulldogs shot a season-high 60.0 percent (30-of-50) en route to their 11th victory in 12 games. They’ve also won 11 of 12 overall versus the Lions, hitting a combined 53.1 percent from the field, and beat them 93-60 on Jan. 24 in Los Angeles.
Gonzaga boasts the conference’s top offense, averaging 79.9 points and 49.5 percent shooting in league games. The Bulldogs, among the nation’s leaders in shooting defense at 37.0 percent, have limited conference opponents to 36.1 percent and 61.3 points per game.
The Lions, meanwhile, are among the nation’s worst offenses at 55.1 points per game and 34.8 percent shooting.
Loyola Marymount has started three true freshmen for much of this season - Jarred DuBois, Kevin Young and LaRon Armstead. On their active roster, the Lions have eight underclassmen and three seniors, and injuries have hit their frontcourt, taking out sophomores Tim Diederichs and Terron Sutton as well as freshman Ashley Hamilton.
Sophomore swingman Vernon Teel, the team’s leading scorer at 16.2 points per game, missed 15 games with a broken foot but has picked up where he left off since returning Jan. 22. Teel has averaged 16.6 points in the last seven games, including a team-best 21 in a 65-57 victory over San Diego on Feb. 12 that broke an eight-game losing streak.
The Lions followed that win with a 69-64 home loss to Santa Clara on Saturday despite DuBois’ 28 points and six 3-pointers. Holding a one-point lead late in the second half, Loyola Marymount committed nine fouls in the final 4:59, allowing the Broncos to score their final 13 points from the line.
The Bulldogs lead the series 51-20 and are 29-6 against the Lions at the McCarthey Athletic Center.