Las Vegas, NV (Sports Network) - The No. 1 team in the nation finally heads back to the hardwood on Saturday night, as the top-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs tangle with the Loyola Marymount Lions in the semifinals of the 2013 West Coast Conference Tournament at Orleans Arena.
Gonzaga was once that pesky mid-major that used to worry opponents because the Bulldogs could have easily been that team that took a more visible squad from one of the power conference out of the running for a national title. Now the Bulldogs have nowhere to hide because they are considered the top team in the country, and for good reason.
For the 12th time in the last 13 years, Gonzaga captured the regular-season title in the WCC, running the table over the 16-game format. In recording their fourth undefeated conference slate, the Bulldogs are now settling in to capture a 12th tournament championship since 1995.
As for the Lions, the ninth seed in the tournament this year, they've gone from winning just one conference game in 16 tries during the regular season to running together three straight WCC victories in as many tries here in the postseason. The run began with a 65-54 victory against Portland in the tournament opener on Wednesday, continued with a 61-60 overtime triumph versus San Francisco on Thursday, followed by a stunning upset of Santa Clara last night, 60-58.
Not only did LMU drop both meetings to Gonzaga during the regular season, those setback came by a combined 64 points. The Bulldogs have won seven straight in the series and own a commanding 57-23 advantage all-time against the Lions.
The winner of this meeting will be back in action on Monday night in the championship game versus the survivor of the San Diego/Saint Mary's battle.
A layup by Anthony Ireland with 5.9 seconds remaining proved to be the game- winner as the Loyola Marymount Lions stunned the Santa Clara Broncos in the quarterfinals of the WCC Tournament at Orleans Arena last night. Ireland finished with a team-best 23 points for the ninth-seeded Lions who are currently enjoying their first three-game win streak of the season. Ireland shot just 1-of-6 behind the 3-point line on the night, but made up for that lack of accuracy by registering seven steals. Ashley Hamilton was credited with 13 points and nine boards, followed by Nick Stover with 11 points off the bench.
Not only did he play the hero last night, Ireland tends to be the one in the spotlight for the Lions on a regular basis seeing as how he leads the program in scoring with 20.2 ppg and is also first with 116 assists. Hamilton checks in with 13.1 ppg and gives the squad some toughness in the paint with a team- best 7.2 rpg, although that physical play has also resulted in consistent foul trouble as well.
Among active head coaches who have been in the college ranks for at least five years, Mark Few owns the highest winning percentage with a mark of .801 (371-92) and a lot of the credit this year for his success has to go to star center Kelly Olynyk who seems equally comfortable posting up in the lane and running the floor for a breakaway dunk. One of the top players in the country, Olynyk leads the Bulldogs in scoring with 17.7 ppg and is second on the unit with 7.0 rpg. Rarely does Olynyk take low-percentage shots, save for his 9- of-24 effort behind the 3-point line, as he makes good on 66.8 percent from the field which in turn has boosted the entire team to 50.5 percent. Elias Harris (14.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and Kevin Pangos (11.7 ppg, 3.3 apg) occupy some of the spotlight as well for a team that is beating the competition on the glass by almost eight per game and is outscoring those foes by a massive 18.3 ppg.