WCC Tournament First Round Preview: #7 Santa Clara vs. #10 Loyola Marymount

It’s that special time of the year where the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas fills to the brim with West Coast Conference fans and representatives. The 9,500 seat stadium raises the banners displaying each of the WCC teams into the rafters, and just like that, it all kicks off. This year, the WCC Tournament is opening with the Loyola Marymount Lions taking on the Santa Clara Broncos on Friday, March 6th at 8:00 pm PT.

Feb 12, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Loyola Marymount Lions forward Godwin Okonji (22) attempts a free throw against the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. The Bulldogs won 80-51. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

It’s do or die time for LMU. There have been games and moments throughout the season where we’ve seen this team performing at a higher standard, but they currently sit in last place in the West Coast Conference and are in the midst of a six-game losing streak heading into Friday’s matchup.

On top of this victory-less, month long stretch, the Lions were swept by the Broncos during conference play this season. The past six games have exposed a lack of unity and communication for LMU, and often displayed a lopsided scoring effort. Far too often, two or three players for the Lions will have impressive scoring nights, while all other members of the team fail to come remotely close to matching their production.

That being said, Santa Clara hasn’t exactly been an offensive juggernaut either. The Broncos have lost seven of their last nine games, with the two victories coming against LMU and a narrow one-point win over Saint Mary’s. In those other seven losses, Santa Clara failed to reach the 70-point mark even once.

Brandon Clark has continued to be a stud for the Broncos, though. He’s likely going to be the X-Factor for Santa Clara if they want to come out victorious. Clark has scored in double figures in four of their last five games, providing the team with some much-needed offensive production. Loyola Marymount may have a hard time containing his impressive shooting ability.

In terms of offense, though, LMU and Santa Clara are actually quite even. The Broncos have a .418 field goal percentage, while the Lions sit slightly above them with a .420 field goal percentage. This could make for a relatively balanced and entertaining battle, as neither team is expected to blow the other out of the water. It may all simply come down to which team wants it most and is willing to hustle for it the hardest.

The key for Santa Clara is to continue what they were doing against the Lions during the regular season: sharing the wealth. In their first matchup with LMU, four different players scored in double figures for the Broncos. That many scoring options can overwhelm the Lions and seal the deal for SCU.

But don’t count out Loyola Marymount. When this team is playing at its full potential, they are remarkably formidable. Though we’ve scarcely seen it throughout the season, this Lions team can compete. An upset against Santa Clara is going to require some impressive outings from both ends of the floor, and though a six-game losing streak isn’t the momentum-builder most teams are hoping for, anything is possible.

After all, it’s called March Madness for a reason.