Jan. 9, 2003
Spokane, WA (Jan. 9) - Loyola Marymount University fought back from a 16-point deficit and pushed defending West Coast Conference champion Gonzaga down the stretch in the opening week of conference play. However, the Zags pulled away thanks to the hot shooting of junior Blake Stepp to earn an 85-73 victory over the Lions at the Martin Center Thursday night.
The Lions fell down by as many as 16 points in the first half and trailed at halftime 44-32. However, they mounted a rally that cut the lead to three with 14:34 remaining on junior Keith Kincade's two free throws. After a lay-up by Gonzaga's Ronny Turiaf made the score 56-51, junior Sherman Gay cut the lead to three once again with a three-footer with 13:38 remaining.
That was as close as the Lions would come as Stepp would take over the game. He finished with 21 points, 15 coming in the second half. With the lead cut to three, Stepp would race down the court for a lay-up to make the score 58-53 with 13:09 remaining. LMU would call a timeout, but a jumper by Kincade was off and Gonzaga would run the lead to eight on a three-pointer by Stepp.
"Our young team really grew-up tonight," said Head Coach Steve Aggers. "Early in the second half we executed the offense well and cut the lead. However, that is when Blake Stepp took over. He was the difference. He took away the momentum from us and gave it to them."
Sophomore Andy Osborn scored 17 for the Lions, hitting 4-of-4 from long distance. Sophomore Charles Brown and freshman Brandon Worthy each added 12 for the Lions, who fall to 6-10 overall and 0-1 in the WCC. Turiaf led all scorers with a career-high 25 and Cory Violette scored 10 points for the Zags, who improve to 10-5 and 1-0.
Gonzaga looked to take control early as their half-court trap forced the Lions into 12 first half turnovers. In addition, their front line of Turaif, Zach Gourde, Richard Fox and Violette scored 28 of the Zags 44 first half points.
"We took a shot to the jaw early. Their half court press was the difference early," said Aggers. "We regained our composure and fought back into it. I was proud of our team tonight."
The Lions fought back thanks to their best shooting effort of the season, going 53 percent from the field and 62 percent from the three-point line for the game. Gonzaga finished hitting 50 percent from the field and 42 from long distance.
"We did an admirable job on the post against their big guys, who are probably one of the best group of guys to play in this league in a long time," said Aggers. "Chris Ayer got a great education tonight in his first start and Jason Dickens had a good game off the bench." The true freshman Ayer finished with six points in his first start and Dickens added eight points and five rebounds, a team-high.
LMU will travel to Portland to take on the Pilots on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. The Pilots lost to Pepperdine in the other conference game on Thursday.
- GO LIONS -