Gonzaga is looking to defeat Pepperdine for the 39th consecutive time but it won’t be a surprise if coach Mark Few holds a pregame lecture.
That’s because consecutive win No. 38 over the Waves was one of his team’s toughest contests of the season.
No. 2 Gonzaga aims for an improved effort on Saturday when it visits Pepperdine in West Coast Conference play at Malibu, Calif. The Bulldogs will be looking for their 18th straight win since losing 82-64 to Michigan on Nov. 29.
The Bulldogs have won 15 games by 20 or more points this season but struggled mightily while posting a 75-70 home win over the Waves on Jan. 4.
Pepperdine battled throughout and had a chance to tie the game but junior point guard Colbey Ross’ 3-pointer was blocked by Bulldogs senior forward Killian Tillie with little more than five seconds left.
Senior guard Admon Gilder then made two free throws to put the game away for Gonzaga.
Few was upset about his team’s 17 turnovers and 5-of-18 shooting from 3-point range after the game. He also had mixed feelings about his defense being exploited for 24 points and 10 assists by Ross, who also committed 10 turnovers.
Tillie was the Bulldogs’ high scorer with 20 points.
Ross didn’t miss in his latest chance to take a big shot on Thursday night. He drained a straight-away 3-pointer as time expired to give the Waves a 72-69 home victory over San Diego.
“That felt great,” Ross told reporters after the victory. “That’s months and years of hard work and practice for those shots. I feel I am made for those moments.”
The decisive shot marked Pepperdine’s only lead after the game’s opening seven minutes. The Waves trailed by 12 in the second half before staging an impressive rally.
Ross recorded 21 points, eight assists and three steals for the Waves (14-12, 7-5), who have won seven of their past 10 games.
Ross leads Pepperdine in scoring (19.8), assists (7.3) and 3-point baskets (56). He ranks sixth in school history with 1,621 career points and needs 166 to surpass school record-holder Stacy Davis (1,786 from 2012-16).
Gonzaga has been resting since delivering a stellar 90-60 trouncing of host Saint Mary’s last Saturday.
The Gaels were expected to give the Zags a challenge but instead it was a one-sided contest. Gonzaga led 53-28 at halftime and cruised to the victory.
“We just took great shots every time,” Tillie told reporters. “We knew if we were patient we could have any shot we wanted. We did a great job at the start.”
Freshman power forward Drew Timme led the Bulldogs with a season-best 20 points, becoming the seventh different Gonzaga player to reach the 20-point mark this season.
All seven of those players average in double digits for a team that leads the nation in scoring at 88.5 points per game.
“You have to play really fast and efficient to even get close,” Gonzaga assistant coach Brian Michaelson told the Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Wash., of having seven double-figure scorers. “You have to have an unselfish group and this group is probably near the top with that.”
Sophomore big man Filip Petrusev is the leader at 17.2 points per game. He also has the team’s best rebounding mark at 7.9. Junior forward Corey Kispert (13.8) and Tillie (13.0) also average at least 13 per game.
Pepperdine coach Lorenzo Romar is quite familiar with Gonzaga’s collection of talent.
“You’re playing against a team that is one of the best programs in the entire country and they’re coming here,” Romar said after the win over San Diego. “It’s a big game, obviously, but we’re approaching it as this is the next game. A great team to play against, they’re really good. They are playing exceptional basketball. It will be a big challenge for us.”
–Field Level Media