Situated between Monday's win over No. 22 Oklahoma State and Saturday's contest at Santa Clara, Gonzaga will try to stay on task against Pepperdine on Thursday in Malibu. It has all the makings of a trap game, facing a squad picked to finish last in the WCC between two tough opponents. (At the time of this post, Santa Clara leads USF 39-28 at half on ESPNU.)
The good news for Gonzaga is guard Gary Bell Jr. (right knee) appears to be fine after departing Monday's game for 7-1/2 minutes. He was expected to practice Wednesday and play in Thursday's contest. The Zags took Tuesday off after arriving in L.A. on a late-night/early-morning charter flight from Stillwater.
The Waves, for the most part, have been able to keep scores in the 50s and 60s with their deliberate, defensive-minded style. It'll be interesting to see how Pepperdine's freshmen frontcourt of Stacy Davis (6-6, 235) and Jett Raines (6-7, 200) fare against Gonzaga's interior foursome. Davis and Raines combine for 18.6 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. Fifth-year senior Lorne Jackson, who has dealt with two torn ACLs during his career, leads Pepperdine at 14.8 points per game and Jordan Baker, who averaged 11.3 points per WCC game last season as a freshman, checks in at 9.8 points per game.
The Four Corners college basketball page returns in tomorrow's S-R.
Here's a glance at the GU-Pepperdine game:
RECORD: 13-1, 0-0 WCC
COMING UP: Thursday at Pepperdine, 6 (KHQ/Root); Saturday at Santa Clara, 5 (KHQ/Root)
OUTLOOK: Pepperdine (8-5) has its most non-conference victories since 2004-05. The Waves are 4-1 at home, including a 58-56 overtime win against Washington State. They haven’t played since edging Fresno Pacific 60-59 last Friday, which was their first game since Dec. 20. Lorne Jackson’s layup with 3.5 seconds left prevented a loss to Division II Fresno Pacific. Jackson averages a team-high 14.8 points. Stacy Davis is the WCC’s top-scoring freshman at 11.3 points. Reserve guard Nikolas Skouen is a 3-point threat (24 of 54, 44.4 percent).
Here's a note on ex-Zag Ryan Spangler attending the GU-Oklahoma State game:
Former Gonzaga forward Ryan Spangler arrived late for the GU-Oklahoma State game on Monday night but he had an excuse. Spangler, redshirting after transferring to Oklahoma, was courtside for the Sooners’ 72-42 victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi earlier Monday in Norman and then drove 90 minutes north to Stillwater.
“Just got here,” said Spangler, after taking a seat in the front row behind GU’s bench at halftime. “It’s been going really good.”
The 6-foot-8, 227-pound Spangler left Gonzaga to be closer to home. He’s from Blanchard, roughly 15 miles from Norman. Spangler played in 22 games, averaging 2.5 points and 2.4 rebounds, last season as a freshman. He missed four games with a broken finger.
Spangler visited with his former teammates inside Gonzaga’s locker room after the Zags’ 69-68 win and then spoke with coach Mark Few for a few minutes. GU thumped Oklahoma 72-47 in November at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando. Spangler wasn’t in attendance because redshirts are required to pay their own way.
And finally, here's my GU -Pepperdine preview:
MALIBU, Calif. – Head coach Mark Few is pleased with Gonzaga’s performance through 14 non-conference games, but he wouldn’t be a coach if he didn’t have some concerns.
The 10th-ranked Bulldogs open West Coast Conference play against Pepperdine (8-5) tonight at Firestone Fieldhouse. Gonzaga (13-1) is in the midst of a busy week, coming off a 69-68 win over Oklahoma State in Stillwater and a tough challenge upcoming at Santa Clara on Saturday.
“Certainly we’ve been tested,” Few said following Monday’s victory. “We just have to get our legs under us right now. The one thing is we’re probably not as rested. We’re in a difficult stretch being on the road so much. We have to play fresh.”
The Bulldogs are in a span of playing five of six games on the road – the lone home contest is against Saint Mary’s on Jan. 10 – that concludes against Butler in Indianapolis on Jan. 19.
Gonzaga appears to have weathered an injury scare with sophomore guard Gary Bell Jr. (right knee), who limped off the court Monday but returned to hit a clutch 3-pointer with 37 seconds left. Bell didn’t notice any swelling shortly after the game. He was expected to practice Wednesday and play in tonight’s game. Bell had a similar scare with his right knee after a collision with Illinois center Meyers Leonard last season. He practiced full speed two days later.
Pepperdine, which has won four straight WCC openers, was picked to finish last (ninth) in the preseason poll. The Waves lead the WCC in field-goal percentage defense (39.4) and they’re second in points allowed (63.5). They average 65 points, eighth in the conference, but they’ve been resourceful with 46-percent shooting, including 37.5 percent on 3-pointers.
“They are defending really well, their scores are way down and they’re playing in the 50s,” Few said. “They’re making it hard to score and there are way fewer possessions. We’ll have to do a great job of being efficient.”
The Bulldogs have won 22 straight against Pepperdine.