Gonzaga still has unpleasant memories of its last West Coast Conference road game. That loss has served as motivation to finish the season strong.
The 13th-ranked Bulldogs begin their final road trip of the regular season Thursday night when they take on Loyola Marymount.
Gonzaga (21-4, 9-1) saw its bid for a second straight 14-0 campaign in the WCC end with an 81-77 overtime loss at San Francisco on Jan. 30. The Bulldogs have reeled off four straight wins since, including three in conference play.
“I’m not happy we lost to San Francisco, but it was a great eye opener,” center Robert Sacre said. “We needed to step up our game. It helped us in a way.”
The Bulldogs are closing in on a 10th straight regular-season crown after two easy home wins last week. They beat Saint Mary’s 80-61 last Thursday to push the Gaels into second place before cruising to an 82-65 win over San Diego on Saturday.
The Zags opened Saturday’s game with a 19-0 lead after 5 minutes and shot 73.9 percent in the first half to open up a 16-point advantage at the break.
“I did like that start,” coach Mark Few said. “That’s a great indication they were ready to go.”
San Diego shot 41.1 percent, ending Gonzaga’s run of three straight games holding opponents to below 40 percent. The Zags are limiting teams to 41.2 percent shooting to top the WCC.
“That shows we can’t be stopped when we play defense,” Sacre said.
Loyola Marymount (13-13, 4-6) split two games on the road last week, winning 73-67 over Santa Clara on Thursday and losing 75-66 to San Francisco on Saturday. Vernon Teel averaged 21.0 points on the trip.
“I’m glad we got Gonzaga (next) because we can’t afford to lick our wounds at all,” coach Max Good said. “You’ve got to get up off the floor.”
Gonzaga has won five straight over Loyola Marymount, taking the last two road games by an average of 28.0 points. The Zags beat the Lions 85-69 on Jan. 23, pulling away from a 42-all halftime score.
Freshman forward Elias Harris keyed last month’s victory for Gonzaga with 22 points and eight rebounds, and Matt Bouldin scored 19. The Lions shot 53.3 percent in the first half before cooling off to shoot 32.0 the rest of the way.
Loyola Marymount employed a lot of zone defense to try to limit Gonzaga’s 3-point shooting. The tactic worked in forcing the Zags to shoot 18.8 percent on 3s, but Harris made the Lions pay inside.
“I hate the zone, but that’s the only choice we had,” Good said. “To match up with their shooters, we had to play a 3-2.”
The Lions have not beaten a ranked team since the 1990 NCAA tournament, when they defeated Alabama to reach the regional final.
Gonzaga, which visits Pepperdine on Saturday, has won 29 of its last 31 meetings with Loyola Marymount.