The Loyola Marymount University (LMU) men’s basketball team’s hopes for its first West Coast Conference (WCC) title in 17 years fell just short after a 68-67 loss to Gonzaga University in the WCC championship game in Spokane, Washington, Monday, March 6th.

The LMU Lions (12-18) were in a position to upset Gonzaga, the fourth-ranked team in the nation, but a last-second lay-up attempt by senior center Chris Ayer missed and host Gonzaga (27-3) was barely able to hold on for the WCC crown.

The narrow loss ended the Lions’ chances for a trip to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament this month, as the winner of the WCC championship earns an automatic bid to the tournament.

In LMU’s last trip to the WCC championship game in 1989, the Lions won the conference title. The Lions also captured the conference crown in 1988.

The second-seeded Lions were able to reach the WCC finals this season after a 66-63 victory over St. Mary’s College in the conference semifinals Sunday, March 5th.

After LMU lost to Gonzaga in both regular season games, the Lions proved they were not intimidated by one of the top teams in the country and challenged the Zags to the very end in the title game.

The Lions held Gonzaga’s Adam Morrison, the leading scorer in the nation, to 23 points.

LMU went into halftime with a 34-26 lead and stretched its lead to as much as 15 points in the second half, but Gonzaga managed to climb back with a 14-2 run and took its first lead of the second half with 4:38 remaining.

Senior guard Wes Wardrop gave the Lions back the lead at 67-66 after free throws with 1:43 remaining, and LMU stayed with Gonzaga until the end.

The Lions had possession with ten seconds left, when junior guard Brandon Worthy found Ayer open under the basket, but the chance for a last-second victory slipped away with the missed lay-up.

Worthy led the Lions with 15 points, six rebounds and six assists. Ayer added 12 points and nine rebounds.

Junior forward Matthew Knight, who earned his 1,000th career point in the game, finished with his 17th double-double of the year after scoring 11 points and grabbing 11 rebounds for LMU.