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Sat., Feb. 20, 2010, 9:58 p.m.

Bulldogs maintain WCC lead with easy win

Gonzaga took care of business early, building an 18-point lead in the first six minutes and cruised to a 72-54 win over Pepperdine on Saturday.

The win keeps GU (22-5 overall) in first place in the WCC with a 10-2 record. Saint Mary's is 9-3. Portland dropped to 8-4 after losing to Loyola Marymount in overtime.

Read on for my unedited game story.

By Jim Meehan; (208) 765-7131

MALIBU, Calif. – For the first nine minutes of the game, Gonzaga shot and Pepperdine took the ball out of the net.

During that same time frame, when Pepperdine shot and made it (which was infrequent) or missed it, the Bulldogs were off and running. When the Waves turned the ball over, Gonzaga was off and running.

And at the end of that stretch, Gonzaga was 10 of 10 from the field, 5 of 5 from the 3-point line and 3 of 3 at the free-throw line. The 13th-ranked Bulldogs led 28-12 and were well on their way to a 72-54 bounce-back victory in front of 3,021 Saturday at Firestone Fieldhouse.

The Bulldogs, two days after a 74-66 loss to Loyola Marymount, were better offensively, defensively and perhaps most importantly, overall effort.

“Completely different team,” said center Rob Sacre, who had a completely different stat line with 12 points and a career-high six blocks. “If you look at all our games we’ve lost, we’ve come back hungrier. It’s dumb that that’s how it has to be. We need to be fired up every game.”

The victory puts Gonzaga (22-5, 10-2) on the doorstep of its 10th consecutive West Coast Conference title. The Bulldogs, one game in front of Saint Mary’s, can earn at least a share of the crown with a win over Santa Clara on Thursday. Pepperdine (7-21, 3-9) dropped its ninth straight.

“It’s right there,” said guard Steven Gray, who made his first four shots and had 10 points in the first five minutes. “The coaches have been on us that you might not always be able to see what you’re playing for, especially because this is such a young group. But coming back home against two teams (Santa Clara and San Francisco) that took it to us, there’s going to be a lot on the line.”

Gonzaga is 5-0 after losses with an average winning margin of 32.2.

“We played harder, we played with more passion and desire,” head coach Mark Few said. “We weren’t getting beat to balls. We played great defense and we guarded Keion Bell the way we wanted to guard him. And we got the break going.”

All five starters scored in the first nine minutes. Matt Bouldin, who finished with 18 points and five assists, and Gray each had two 3-pointers, both of Gray’s coming off inbounds passes. Elias Harris, who finished with 13 points and six rebounds, added a 3-pointer. Sacre scored on the low block and Demetri Goodson raced through Pepperdine’s defense for a pair of baskets.  

“The coaches kept preaching, ‘push it and stay in the middle,’ ” Goodson said. “The last game, we weren’t pushing the ball at all, and that’s a really big part of our game.”

Gray’s explanation for the difference two days made? “We just didn’t want to have that feeling we had on Thursday,” he said. “We just wanted to show who we are as a team, not the sleepy, lackadaisical team that has randomly made appearances this year.”

The Bulldogs bottled up Bell, the 6-foot-3 sophomore who torched GU for 37 points last month in Spokane. Gray was the primary defender early, but he sat out with foul trouble in both halves. Goodson and Bouldin also spent time defending Bell.

Bell had three points in the first half – same as in Spokane – and 14 in the second half, but he made just 5 of 15 shots. When Bell penetrated, he was often met by an additional defender in the paint. Gonzaga equaled its school record with 11 blocks and drew three charging fouls.

“It was a little like Memphis,” Few said. “We had to build a wall because Keion is going to take a lot of dribbles and try to get into the seams. We did a good job of making that hard.”

After the Zags’ early burst, they essentially traded baskets. GU’s largest lead was 24.

The Waves made 27.1 percent of their shots. They collected a whopping 26 offensive rebounds, many on their 16 missed 3s. Nine of their first 12 points and 22 of their first 46 came on second-chance points.

That was about the only troublesome column on the stat sheet.

 “We got back to what we’ve been doing all season, what we’ve been successful with,” Bouldin said. “We ran the ball, our defense was 10 times better and we got it inside. Our bigs really made an impact, whether it was blocking shots or getting them in foul trouble. They were great tonight.”

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Jim Meehan
Jim Meehan joined The Spokesman-Review in 1990. Jim is currently a reporter for the Sports Desk and covers Gonzaga University basketball, Spokane Empire football, college volleyball and golf.

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