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Gonzaga started the WCC season with exactly what they wanted: a win. Loyola Marymount came to the Kennel looking to keep the Zags from starting a new Kennel winning-streak, but failed in an 85-73 loss. After playing the most difficult pre-season schedule in school history, and coming out with a deceiving 9-5 record, Gonzaga's performance in league-play may be the deciding factor of what will happen to the Zags come March.
Gonzaga appeared beat-up. Winston Brooks had his right shoulder taped, Kyle Bankhead wore eye protection, and Josh Reisman showcased a knee-brace, but the Zags didn't play like they were hurting. Creating Lion turnovers, stealing passes, and pushing the ball up court, the Zags jumped to a 12-6 lead. Winston Brooks played one of his best games this season, throwing no-look passes, seeing the open man no one else saw, playing tenacious defense, and leading the fast-break. Perhaps the best Winston to Blake play of the night came when Brooks threw a cross-court pass to Stepp who couldn't make up his mind; to dunk or not to dunk. It all ended with a Bankhead trey.
Ronny Turiaf was back to his normal self, gathering his own missed shots just to miss it again until he was fouled or the shot finally fell through. Ronny was double-teamed nearly every time he touched the ball, but he used it to his and his teammates' advantage, kicking the ball out to a wide-open guard for a three. Zach Gourde found his rhythm in the first half, scoring six points on his classics: the jump hook, pivoting to the basket, and throwing down a nifty one-handed slam. He moved his feet the fastest he ever has on defense, meeting his man at half-court and never allowing his opponent to slip past him. Blake Stepp gave a sign of what was to come from him in the second half, sinking a long trey just seconds before the buzzer. Gonzaga held a 16 point lead at one point, but let it slip to a 44-32 advantage at intermission. All-in-all the first half saw the Zags play unmerciful defense and execute well on the offensive end.
The second half began quite the opposite. LMU capitalized on offense, thanks in part to slacking Gonzaga defense, and GU's offense became stagnant, copying a disturbing trend that has occurred throughout the season. The Lions challenged the Zags by cutting their lead to three points with 14:30 remaining. Gonzaga stepped up to the challenge.
The remainder of the night was basically the "Ronny Turiaf and Blake Stepp Show." Ronny cashed in at the free-throw line, sinking 9 of 14. Turiaf also intercepted a pass, took it down for a dunk, and went nuts along with the crowd. A sky-high block and three by Skinner and a swat by Ronny kept the momentum coming. The two stars of the show connected when Stepp through a lob to Ronny for yet another crowd-erupting slam. Ronny ended with a game-high 25 points and a team-high 6 boards. Blake Stepp caught on fire connecting on 5-9 treys. He drove the lane for lay-ins, one time streaking down the entire court, without any LMU defender able to stop him, for the finger-role. Having a complete game, Stepp tallied 21 points, 9 assists, and 4 rebounds. The Lions never allowed Gonzaga to pull away; answering basket for basket or trading run for run.
Gonzaga will face rival Pepperdine in the Kennel on Sunday, January 12. Fans are asked to "Paint the Kennel Red" by wearing red shirts and make the Kennel shake!