The LMU men’s and women’s basketball teams are both set to begin their slightly shortened seasons tomorrow. To get you ready for the season, the Loyolan sports staff is highlighting three important games for each team that you should pay extra attention to on the schedule.
Ellie Kinney, asst. sports editor: Wednesday, Dec. 9, at Stanford
LMU men’s basketball has several games outside the West Coast Conference to start the season, but a big one to watch is their matchup against Stanford. The Cardinal are LMU’s only opponent in the Pac-12 conference this season and are always a competitive team. The big story for Stanford this year is freshman small forward Ziaire Williams, the highest-ranked recruit in team history. Considered the No. 5 overall player in the 2020 recruiting class, Williams is bound to be explosive and exciting to watch. It will be fun to see Williams take on the Lions’ plethora of young talent. Freshman guards Jalin Anderson and Mayoum Mayoum, as well as sophomore forward Keli Leaupepe and redshirt sophomore guard/forward Dameane Douglas, are building the future of LMU basketball. This battle of young stars is one you won’t want to miss.
Jameson O’Neil, sports staff writer: Saturday, Jan. 2, at Santa Clara
This game marks the first in-conference matchup for the Lions, who will have played nine non-conference games before they take on the Santa Clara Broncos in this WCC showdown. Last season, the men notched a 6-8 record versus non-conference teams before dropping 11 of 14 games against WCC foes. The Lions expect to change that result this year with the return of three key starters who missed the entirety of last season’s campaign. These players — redshirt senior center Mattias Markusson, redshirt junior guard Joe Quintana and Douglas — bring a tenacity on both sides of the ball in addition to a bit of prior winning experience. The three were a key part of the Lions’ 2018-2019 season, which saw a 12-2 start, an LMU men's basketball record. That team, however, also encountered difficulty in conference competition, going 8-7 before losing to Pepperdine in the second round of the conference tournament. LMU will try and improve against WCC opponents in 2021, and that starts with wins over similarly matched teams like Santa Clara. Earlier this year, the Broncos were ranked No. 6 in the conference in the WCC preseason coaches’ poll, one spot ahead of LMU. If the Lions cannot secure wins over Santa Clara in regular season play, they will have difficulty securing a high seed in the conference tournament. The key player to watch in this game is SCU’s senior forward Josip Vrankic, who averaged 12.5 points and 5.4 rebounds in 2019-2020 and landed a spot on the WCC All-Preseason team.
Dean Anagnostopoulos, asst. sports editor: Thursday, Feb. 11, vs. Pepperdine
On Feb. 11, 2021, LMU will take on Pepperdine in what should be an exciting game. Last year, the Waves came out on top in both meetings, but the scores were very close. The first time, Pepperdine won by eight points, and in the second game, LMU lost by one in a nail-biter. However, this year I think the tides will shift and LMU will go 2-0. The Lion squad last year put up a fight and almost won those games without some of their most important key players. Now insert guys like Douglas, Markusson and Quintana, who didn’t play last season, into the equation, and LMU should have no problem handling their business against the conference rival.
Nick Rossi, asst. sports editor: Wednesday, Nov. 25, at USC
The women tip off this season with a game on the road at USC. This first game will provide a strong first test for coach Charity Elliott and her team on the road. USC is a solid program that finished last season with a 17-14 record. The last time these two met was in 2017 when the Trojans handed LMU a loss at Gersten by a score of 80-70. The Lions began hot, starting 2017 with a 7-0 record, only to have their winning streak snapped at the hands of USC. The way this contest plays out on Wednesday will provide an indication of what is to come for the rest of the season for the women’s team.
Alex Hutton, sports editor: Monday, Dec. 28, vs. Gonzaga
After a shorter-than-usual non-conference schedule, the Lions open WCC play and will be tested immediately. They host a Gonzaga Bulldogs team that went 28-3 during the 2019-2020 season en route to a regular-season conference title. The Zags enter the season ranked No. 21 in the nation and return several key players from last year’s squad, including reigning WCC Player of the Year Jill Townsend and All-WCC First Team member Jenn Wirth. The start of conference play always means that teams have to play a little harder, but for LMU, that is especially true this year. LMU’s play against Gonzaga will be a very strong determinant of how the remainder of the conference slate might go for them.
Chris Benis, sports intern: Thursday, Jan. 7, vs. BYU
Last year, the Lions began conference play with a disappointing 59-44 loss to BYU, and while they played competitively for the most part, they also surrendered costly stretches of momentum throughout the game. One such instance occurred in the final minutes of the first quarter, where the Cougars went on a 17-0 run and subsequently held the Lions’ offense to a mere 8 points in the second quarter. It is critical for LMU to play more consistently this year and be more physical with WCC foes; they underperformed by surrendering 70.4 points per game in 2019-2020. Meanwhile, BYU returns a solid starting lineup (including three all-WCC players) and will therefore be LMU’s most difficult challenger, apart from No. 21 Gonzaga on Dec. 28 and Feb. 27. If the Lions can hang tight with BYU for four quarters, expect them to look back on Jan. 7 as a turning point for their 2020-2021 season.