March 9, 2013
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LAS VEGAS, Nev. - After posting just one win in the first two months of the 2013 calendar year, LMU men's basketball has tripled that in the 2013 West Coast Conference Basketball Championships, putting together its longest winning streak of the season at the most memorable of moments. With it, they advance to their second semifinal match-up in four years, facing top-ranked Gonzaga on Saturday, Mar. 9 at 6 pm. The game is on ESPN2 and KXLU 88.9 FM.
INSIDE THE LIONS
The Lions are 11-22 overall, snapping a 14-game skid with three straight wins - the Lions' longest winning streak of the season - to advance to the WCC Basketball Championship Semifinals for the second time in four years. BYU excluded, only LMU, Gonzaga and Saint Mary's have gone to the quarterfinals and beyond in each of the last four WCC tournaments.
Since the WCC Basketball Championships began in 1987, the lowest seeded team in the tournament field (No. 8 through 2011, No. 9 starting in 2012) had advanced just four times. Make that five. LMU was the last team to do it in 2011 when they defeated Portland in the first round as the No. 8 seed. And now, the Lions are the first low-seed in the tournament to advance to the semifinals since they did it in 1997. LMU also did it in 1995, defeating top-seeded Santa Clara in both years, 87-83 in 1995 and 70-61 in 1997. The other No. 8 seed advancing was Pepperdine in 1996, defeating No. 1 Santa Clara 63-60.
Junior Anthony Ireland has been Santa Clara's worst nightmare, going for more than 20 points in all three meetings against them this season, including his 23-point, seven-steal effort on Friday to advance the Lions. He hit the go-ahead bucket on a lay-in with 5.8 seconds in the 60-58 win. He 23 against them on Feb. 28 and 29 in the win on Jan. 10. He is leading the team, like he did in the season, with 17 points, playing in 122 of the Lions' 125 minutes in the three games.
Senior Ashley Hamilton led the Lions with 21 points and eight rebounds in the win over Portland, marking just the fifth time this season someone other the Ireland led the team in points. The Lions had a season high 14 steals, forcing Portland into 19 turnovers while only having 11 themselves. The 14 steals is the second most in program history at the WCC tournament, done three previous times, last coming in 1991 against USF. The steal total matches two other games (3/21/12 at Utah St.; 12/18/06 vs. Boise St.) as the most in a single game overall in more than nine years, getting 15 on Jan. 15, 2004 against San Diego.
In the 61-60 win over USF, it was defense that once again pushed the Lions to double the wins it had during all of conference heading into the tournament. The Lions had just nine turnovers but forced USF into 12, posting a 15-7 edge in points off turnovers. They also held USF to 38.9 percent shooting, including a 1-for-7 clip in overtime. Godwin Okonji, who lost his father and had an emergency Appendectomy earlier this season, had the best game of his career in with his first double-double (14 points with 10 reb). Ashley Hamilton continued his hot postseason with his fourth double-double of the season and seventh of his career with 11 points and 14 rebounds. The rebound total is tied for 5th for most in the WCC tournament in LMU history.
The three-game winning streak put together in the WCC tournament has been about contribution throughout the line-up in Head Coach Max Good's rotation. In the quarterfinal win over Santa Clara, freshman Nick Stover went for 11 points off the bench on 5-for-8 shooting, his best night since the season opener on Nov. 9. Junior Alex Osborne matched a career-high with 11 rebounds and after not playing in the first two games, sophomore Bruce English came off the bench to play 15 minutes with two points and three rebounds with no turnovers. In the win over USF, the Lions had four players in double figures scoring for the first time since Jan. 24 against Pepperdine, including Taylor Walker's career-best 13 points and junior Godwin Okonji's first career double-double. It all started in the opening round win with Hamilton, who had his best shooting performance of the season at 8-for-12 in scoring his second highest point total of the season.
LMU's best offense is from their defense. The Lions had a season high 14 steals against Portland, forcing them into 19 turnovers while only having 11 themselves. The 14 steals matches two other games (3/21/12 at Utah St.; 12/18/06 vs. Boise St.) as the most in a single game in more than nine years, getting 15 on Jan. 15, 2004 against San Diego. The Lions posted a 22-6 edge in points off turnovers in that game, and have a 71-26 edge in points off turnovers the last four games, forcing teams into 16.4 turnovers per game, while committing just 10.3 a game themselves. The Lions have out scored their opponent in 19 of the 33 games in points off turnovers.
In a program with a rich scoring history, junior Anthony Ireland continues to pace the Lions in 2012-13 with one of the better scoring seasons in LMU history. He leads the Lions at 20.3 points per game, ranking second in the WCC and 12th nationally (as of Mar. 4). He now has 669 points on the season, becoming the first Lion to crack the LMU season top-10 since Terrell Lowery did it with 675 points in 1991-92. Ireland is just the 12th different player in the top-20, and is just the 15th time someone has scored at least 600 points in a single season in LMU history. He is now ninth all-time thanks to his 23 points on Friday. He cracked the career top-10 as he now has 1,557 career points, ranking 10th all-time at LMU. Ireland was named first-team All-WCC this past week, becoming the first Lion to earn back-to-back first-team All-WCC honors since Matthew Knight did it in 2005-06 and 2006-07. He is the 14th player to go back-to-back and just the second junior to do it, joining Hank Gathers as the only Lion to do so. In addition to scoring, Ireland ranks in the top-20 in eight other statistical categories in the WCC, including rebounds (18th), assists (7th) and steals (7th).
The 46 percent shooting for the Lions against Portland was a big part of ending the skid, as the Lions shot a combined 37.6 percent (277-737) from the field during the 14-game skid. The streak included a 25 percent outing on Jan. 31 against the Zags (the lowest since shooting 21.2 percent at Portland on Jan. 21, 2010). The Lions finished hitting 42.9 percent from three against Portland (6-for-14), which was an even bigger improvement for the Lions. The Lions were ranked fourth in the WCC in three-point shooting following the Santa Clara win on Jan. 10 at 37.5 percent. In the 14 games after, the Lions had shot just 70-for-241 from three (29 percent ) and entered the WCC tournament ranked 7th at 33.6 percent.
During the Lions' 14-game skid to end the regular season, 10 of the setbacks were by single digits and nine of the 10 where a single possession game with less than two minutes to play. Those 10 games were decided by a total of 44 points, 4.4 per game. The Lions are 3-10 in games decided by less than 10 points since the start of the year (6-14 for the entire season) and 3-6 in games decided by four or less against conference foes, winning their last two.
AND INTO THE SEMIFINALS
Like the Lions quarterfinal match-up, the semifinal date with No. 1 Gonzaga will be the eighth all-time meeting between the two in the WCC tournament, equalling Santa Clara as most against any one team for the Lions at the WCCs. The Lions won the first two meetings against the Zags in the WCC tournament, winning the tournament in 1989. The Zags have taken the last five, including the last two meetings in the conference title game in Spokane on March 7, 2006 and in the Lions last semifinal appearance on March 7, 2010. This will be the 82nd meeting overall between the two teams. While Gonzaga has been to the semifinals and final every year since 1998, this will be the Lions seventh trip to the semifinals, winning in 1988, 1989 and 2006 to advance to the WCC finals. The Zags swept the season series, holding LMU to just 25 percent in the first win on Jan. 31, and then hitting 51.1 percent from the field just nine days later to sweep. Ireland had 19 in the first meeting and matched a career-best with 30 on Feb. 9.
AGAINST THE RANKED
Fittingly, the last time the Lions had to face a No. 1 was actually in Las Vegas. In the historic 1989-90 season, LMU would open with preseason No. 1 UNLV on Nov. 15, 1989, falling 102-91. LMU has played a No. 1 (AP only) five times, four them coming to conference foe San Francisco.
Jan. 1955 at USF: L, 68-46
Feb. 1955 vs. USF: L, 65-48
Feb. 11, 1978 vs. USF: L, 82-80
Feb. 17, 1978 at USF: L, 99-71
Nov. 15, 1989 at UNLV: L, 102-91
The Lions are 4-6 in their last 10 games against ranked opponents, falling to No. 7 Gonzaga on Jan. 31, 88-43, and then No. 6 Gonzaga on Feb. 9, 74-55. The Lions went 3-2 in 2011-12 against ranked opponents, earning a win at #16 Saint Mary's on Feb. 15. The five ranked opponents was the most since the 2008-09 season when they played five. At No. 7 in both the AP Poll and Coaches' Poll, the Bulldogs were the highest ranked team to play in Gersten Pavilion since the Zags came to Los Angeles ranked fifth on Feb. 18, 2006. It was the fourth top-10 team to visit Gersten since that game. Notre Dame was No. 9 on Nov. 21, 2008 (L, 65-54) in Head Coach Max Good's
first game, and the Zags were ranked No. 9 on Feb. 18, 2010, a 74-66 win for the Lions, their last win against Gonzaga.
- GO LIONS -