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NCAAW Preview: No. 23 Gonzaga is battle-tested entering WCC play

The No. 23 Gonzaga Bulldogs already have played one of the nation’s elite teams in the No. 5 South Carolina Gamecocks and they lost a thriller to the previously-ranked South Dakota State Jackrabbits. Can those tests lead them to an undefeated WCC record? It all starts with their conference opener against the Loyola Marymount Lions.

NCAA Womens Basketball: West Coast Conference Tournament-Gonzaga vs Saint Mary’s
Jill Townsend (left) and the Gonzaga Bulldogs are hungry for a WCC championship.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 23 Gonzaga Bulldogs (5-2, 0-0 WCC) were tested by their nonconference slate this year and, unfortunately for them, picked up two losses — one to the No. 5 South Carolina Gamecocks on Nov. 29 and one to the previously-ranked South Dakota State Jackrabbits on Dec. 6.

The Bulldogs can only hope those losses will make them tougher and more disciplined in the long run. The good news is that they played phenomenally well in their most recent contest: an 87-57 blowout of the North Alabama Lions on Dec. 21. That victory came after the Bulldogs let the Montana Lady Griz and the Eastern Washington Eagles hang around on Dec. 13 and Dec. 20, respectively.

On Monday, at 9 p.m. ET, Gonzaga seeks another blowout win when it faces the Loyola Marymount Lions, in Los Angeles, in its West Coast Conference (WCC) opener.

The Lions (1-4, 0-0 WCC) have been inconsistent this season. They lost to a Power 5 team in the LSU Tigers by just two points on Dec. 20, but followed that performance with a 35-point loss to the UNLV Lady Rebels the next day. Other blowout losses have come at the hands of the USC Trojans (Nov. 25) and Grand Canyon Antelopes (Dec. 5).

LMU’s lone win came against the UC Irvine Anteaters on Dec. 3.

Jill Townsend (14.6 points per game) and twins Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth (12.3 and nine, respectively) lead the charge for Gonzaga, and Cierra Walker (8.6) should be in the scoring mix as well.

LMU counters with six players who average eight points or more per game, though one, Brittney Reed, has only played in two games. Sophomore Ciera Ellington leads the Lions’ double-digit scorers with 12.6 points per game and fellow starter Khari Clark follows with 11.

Highlights: The last time Gonzaga hosted Loyola Marymount

Game information

No. 23 Gonzaga Bulldogs (5-2, 0-0 WCC) vs. Loyola Marymount Lions (1-4, 0-0 WCC)

When: Monday, Dec. 28, at 9 p.m. ET

Where: Gersten Pavilion in Los Angeles, CA

How to watch/listen: WCC Network/Radio: 790 KJRB; 94.1 FM (Spokane, WA)

Key to the matchup: Turnovers. Gonzaga hasn’t forced a lot of turnovers — just 14.4 per game — and they commit 14. LMU forces 14.4 per game and averages 15.6 points off those turnovers compared to Gonzaga's 16.3. The Lions, however, average 21.4 turnovers, but that number won’t be as high against the Bulldogs’ defense. Thus, the Lions could gain an advantage in that department. LMU is way behind Gonzaga in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and rebounding margin, so winning the turnover battle will be critical.

Reason to watch: Gonzaga is the heavy favorite to win the WCC and this is their conference opener. The Bulldogs went 17-1 in conference play last year. Could they go undefeated this year?