LAS VEGAS — Back in the day, when Gonzaga was the epitome of the cuddly underdog, it could show up in a gym and count on unconditional love from everybody in the house and anybody holding a TV remote.
Saturday night in the West Coast Conference semifinals, the Bulldogs became part of the Vegas glitterati, sporting their freshly conferred No. 1 ranking in the polls.
Tough business, then, trying to cop an underdog role.
And for half the night, the Bulldogs played like they were better the old way, with Gonzaga trailing by one point at the half.
But a sizzling 14-0 run early in the second half at least showed the curious part of America what all the fuss has been about, and Gonzaga prevailed, 66-48.
Before that, Gonzaga played like it was entitled. Or at least pressing. Loyola Marymount played like it was hungry.
But it all changed early in the second half, right after Lions guard Anthony Ireland dropped in a 16-footer to pull Loyola Marymount within 32-31.
Right then, Gonzaga began to cook.
Kevin Pangos got free in the lane for a basket and Mike Hart whistled a skip pass to Gary Bell Jr., who hit a three-pointer.
Pangos began to push the ball, and midway through the decisive run, the Bulldogs switched to a zone defense that seemed to have good effect. Pangos hit a three-point play in transition, Kelly Olynyk followed Pangos' miss on another fastbreak, and when Pangos drained a three-pointer from on top, the Bulldogs had completed a two-touchdown rush on the Lions.
Gonzaga (30-2) moves on to face the winner of the late semifinal between St. Mary's and San Diego.
Ireland led Loyola Marymount (11-23) with 19 points.