By Jim Meehan The Spokesman-Review
LOS ANGELES — They won’t get extra credit for making it harder than it needed to be, but the Gonzaga Bulldogs, after a few false starts, finally got what they were looking for Saturday afternoon.
The Bulldogs, on the verge of blowing out Loyola Marymount several times, took control in the final 10 minutes, endured one last Lions’ rally and snagged an 82-72 West Coast Conference win in front of 4,059 fans at Gersten Pavilion.
The victory capped a 2-0 California trip for the first-place Bulldogs (16-3, 6-1 WCC), a solid response to last week’s 82-73 loss at Portland.
“They’re scrappy,” said Gonzaga forward Drew Barham, who capped perhaps his best weekend as a Zag with four timely 3-pointers and 16 points. “We knew if we let them make shots and hustle plays they can catch fire. Thank goodness we settled ourselves down.”
This game had an unsettled feeling throughout for the Bulldogs, or as coach Mark Few put it, “it’s always uncomfortable in my seat. When you coach long enough, you kind of expect the worst and hope for the best.”
Gonzaga dominated in the lane with LMU concentrating on preventing 3-pointers, but the Zags still left a number of points on the table. GU led 30-19, with 26 of those points coming in the paint. The Bulldogs, with Gerard Coleman contributing 11 points off the bench, held a nine-point halftime lead but had to be kicking themselves after missing too many open shots from point-blank range.
Sam Dower Jr. scored a career-high 28 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, giving him 46 points and 22 boards on the trip. He also had a handful of shots lip out that could have pushed his scoring total well into the 30s.
“They all felt good but they didn’t go in,” said Dower, who surpassed 1,000 career points. “But I didn’t let it stop me from being aggressive. It was a close game and I needed to make some shots and play defense and as a team I think we did that.”
Said Few: “I’ve never seen us miss that many chippies, but Sam stepped up and hit two big baskets at the end after experiencing all of that. So, mission accomplished.”
Barham, whose 3-pointer gave GU a 42-33 halftime lead, added three big 3s in the second half. The first gave GU a 53-52 lead, the second extended it to 57-52 and the last at the 4-minute mark made it 75-64. His biggest basket, though, was probably an off-balance 10-footer that trickled in just as the shot clock expired, giving GU a 66-57 advantage.
“They were concentrating on Kevin (Pangos) coming off balls screens,” said Barham, who had eight points and six rebounds versus Pepperdine. “He did a good job seeing me and also ‘Stocks’ (David Stockton) and Kyle (Dranginis) were finding me when they penetrated.”
LMU (10-10, 2-6), down to seven scholarship players after several season-ending injuries, took a 52-50 lead with 14:08 remaining before GU’s decisive 20-5 run. Freshman Evan Payne, who finished with 19 points, picked up his fourth foul with LMU trailing by two. When he returned 4 minutes later, the Lions were down by 13.
“We fought our guts out,” Lions coach Max Good said. “Dower and (Przemek) Karnowski are a handful, especially when you’re playing with a freshman (Gabe Levin) and (6-foot-9, 185-pound) Marin Mornar. He could tread water in a garden hose, but they fought.”
Pangos had open looks, particularly from the perimeter, but made just 1 of 11 shot attempts, 0 of 6 on 3s. He finished with six assists and Dranginis and Stockton each had four.
“We were telling them at half the offense is getting us great shots, you’re not going to get better than that,” Few said. “We absorbed an off day from Kevin and won on the road so that’s a positive, too.”