Malachi Smith’s first season at Gonzaga hasn’t gone as smoothly as planned.
But he’s hoping the best is yet to come.
No. 6 Gonzaga (16-3, 5-0 West Coast Conference) is scheduled to play host to Loyola Marymount (13-7, 3-3) on Thursday night in Spokane, Wash., and Smith will try to build on his last outing.
Smith, a transfer from Chattanooga who was the Southern Conference’s player of the year last season, was expected to give the Zags’ backcourt a big boost.
But he was practically absent, scoring just seven points combined, as Gonzaga pulled out a trio of road wins in conference play by a combined eight points.
The Bulldogs returned home Saturday to the McCarthey Athletic Center, where they have won an NCAA-best 75 consecutive games. Smith came off the bench to score a season-high 27 points, making 7 of 10 3-point attempts and adding a team-high eight rebounds with five assists in a 115-75 victory against Portland.
“We knew their game plan was to pack the paint and so coach was telling us just to be ready to shoot,” Smith said. “And we were ready. Once you hit that first shot you know, it just gets easier. The rim just starts to look like an ocean.”
Gonzaga’s Drew Timme scored 18 points, Julian Strawther added 14 points and seven rebounds, Nolan Hickman had 13 points, and Anton Watson and Ben Gregg each tallied 12.
The Bulldogs made nine 3-pointers in the first half in building a 61-28 lead. One more and the student section might have exited at the intermission, as fans get free tacos from a sponsor when the team makes 10 treys in a game.
“I saw we had nine (3-pointers) at halftime and I was like, ‘Oh, we’re getting tacos early tonight,'” Gregg said. “The fans were definitely happy about that one. I am, too. Hopefully, I get a gift card.”
Gonzaga’s 11th straight victory was relatively easy after it took Strawther’s 3-pointer with 9.5 seconds left to beat BYU 75-74 last Thursday.
“We had a good win (at BYU), but that game was in the past,” Smith said. “We wanted to just carry it over. That was the mentality — just be aggressive.”
Gonzaga has won 25 straight against LMU, dating to Feb. 18, 2010.
The Lions are coming off a 98-84 victory against visiting San Diego as Cameron Shelton scored a game-high 28 points.
Keli Leaupepe added 18 points to reach 1,000 for his LMU career and grabbed nine rebounds. Chance Stephens scored 17 and made five 3-pointers.
LMU had season-bests in shooting — 55.2 percent from the field (32 of 58), 56 percent from beyond the 3-point line (14 of 25) and 90.9 percent from the free-throw line (20 of 22).
“The pace was how we wanted to play,” Lions coach Stan Johnson said. “I think we’re comfortable playing that way.”
The up-tempo game might not work against the Zags, who lead NCAA Division I in both scoring (86.9 points per game) and shooting percentage (51.7).
–Field Level Media