No. 7 Gonzaga, Loyola Marymount battle in WCC tourney

While Gonzaga prepared this week for the West Coast Conference tournament, much of the discussion surrounding the school has focused on another league — the Mountain West.

The No. 7 Zags will have been off a week when they take to court against Loyola Marymount on Saturday at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. But athletic director Mike Roth has had a busy week.

The Mountain West and Gonzaga have at least discussed the possibility a new conference affiliation for the Zags, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported this week.

“I guess the adjective I’d use is exploratory,” Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson told the paper. “Truthfully, what we’re trying to do here is better ourselves and we’re trying to understand what are your goals and ambitions, and what are the Mountain West’s goals and ambitions. Is there something there? … But obviously, they would enhance our basketball enterprise.”

On the court, the Bulldogs (27-4) will be looking to add a sixth straight WCC tournament title — and 17th in 19 years — to the 15th regular-season title in 16 years that they secured with a 79-65 win over BYU on Feb. 25.

“I think it was a statement,” point guard Josh Perkins said of the Zags’ dominance in Provo, Utah.

After falling behind by double digits in the first half, BYU got within two 1:38 before the break.

But it was all Zags from there.

Gonzaga outscored the Cougars 15-5 to open the second half and led by as many 21.

Statement indeed for a team that was picked to finish second a season after a run to the Final Four.

“I have never,” senior guard Silas Melson told the (Spokane, Wash.) Spokesman-Review, “heard of a team coming off the national championship game getting picked second in its league.”

While Gonzaga coach Mark Few maintained that his coaching staff didn’t “put any stock in that,” the players did.

Despite losing a lot — three starters and a bench player who was an NBA Lottery pick — the Zags, as usual, had plenty left.

“I just know we had pieces back — J3 (6-foot-9 forward Johnathan Williams), me, Si (Melson), Killian (Tillie), Rui (Hachimura) — that contributed to last year’s team,” Perkins said, “and I just felt we deserved to be picked to win it. We weren’t, which is fine. Pick who you want, but at the end of the day, you’ll see who the No. 1 seed is in Vegas.”

It’s Gonzaga. Saint Mary’s, the preseason favorite in the WCC, is the No. 2 seed, and the Zags and Gaels could be on course for a rubber match in the WCC title game on Tuesday.

“(The season) really turned into kind of a quest,” Few said, “where you had to dig deep, but you also had to concentrate and not screw up somewhere else. It was keeping your eye on the prize, but in the present moment, too, and not have one of those other teams come up and bite you. Our guys were really mature and deserve all the credit.”

Loyola Marymount, the WCC Tournament’s 8 seed, overcame a 15-point, first-half deficit to beat Portland 78-72 in the first round on Friday.

The Lions’ prize is a quarterfinal matchup with a team they’re 3-37 against since Few took over as Bulldogs coach in 1999.

Gonzaga recorded 85-66 and 76-46 wins over Loyola earlier this season.

“We understand who they are and their tradition but you want to be in these situations,” Lions coach Mike Dunlap said, according to The Spokesman-Review. “The things you have to do in order to give yourself a chance to win are take care of the ball, play with them on the boards and field-goal percentage. We have to find a way to take good shots.

“What they do, like Saint Mary’s, is play in spurts. You’re hanging around and make two mistakes and you’re down 10.”