The late start and a fast-approaching deadline combined to limit my post-game interviews. Fired three questions at Mark Few, Kevin Pangos and Kyle Wiltjer, said hello to ex-Zag Ronny Turiaf and dashed for my computer to write up GU's wild 78-76 win over tough-minded Pepperdine.
--We’ll begin with the late start. Yes, I got caught in the traffic jam on the PCH, caused by a driver colliding with a light pole. I actually left earlier than usual, but a 40-minute drive took close to 2 ½ hours. GU stays closer to Malibu than I do by about 15 minutes, and they needed more than 2 hours to make it to Firestone Fieldhouse.
I’ve made the trip eight times and it’s never taken more than 50 minutes.
Anyway, when Gonzaga arrived, coach Mark Few met with Pepperdine coach Marty Wilson and game management staff and settled on starting 30 minutes late, tipping at 8:03. The other option was 7:45ish, but that would have cut into the Zags’ warm-up time even more.
“I’ll take the blame for it,” Few said. “Fortunately Marty was gracious enough to move back the start time. That was big-time sportsmanship by him.”
--This game resembled several of Gonzaga’s previous WCC road contests, with the Zags getting off to a hot start, driven by posts scoring seemingly at will, only to see the home team make a big rally. See BYU, San Diego and Portland.
Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis hit a bunch of early baskets, none from longer than 5 feet, and Silas Melson added some much-needed scoring punch from the guard line. The result was a 15-point lead, a quiet crowd and a sense that the outcome would be like many of GU's previous 26 straight wins in the series. Only three of those 26 were decided by less than 10 points.
Karnowski had three field goals in the first four minutes but didn’t score the rest of the game. Part of the reason is he ran into heavy traffic in the lane as Pepperdine clogged the paint. A bigger part was Karnowski slipped into foul trouble and fellow bigs Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer, particularly Wiltjer in the second half, became the focal point of GU’s offense.
The Zags needed every point from those two, who combined for 42 points, to overcome a shaky defensive effort. Pep made 63 percent of its second-half shots.
“I knew we were going to be in for a battle, Pepperdine was playing very well,” Few said. “Their defensive numbers were great and our offensive numbers were great so something had to give, I just didn’t know it would be in that way. Basically we couldn’t stop them in the second half and we didn’t make free throws, which was crazy.”
The Zags shut down Pep's leading scorer Stacy Davis in the first half. He was 0 of 5 and scored just one point. But the muscular 6-6 forward went off in the second half, scoring 20 of his 21 points. He made all six of his shot attempts and added eight free throws.
Davis had success, much like center Jett Raines, taking bigger defenders off the dribble. Raines mixed in a jump shot or two,but most of the duo’s damage came by creating space on drives from the wing. Raines, who saw limited time last year behind Davis and center Brendan Lane, was 10 of 14 from the field.
“That’s why they came back, we couldn’t get a stop,” Wiltjer said. “We couldn’t get stops until (in the final few minutes), we just kind of said, ‘Screw that, we’re going to win this game.’ ”
--Wiltjer made a pretty resounding statement at the offensive end, too. He had two 3s, a tip-in, a floater from 8 feet and a couple of post-up baskets en route to 24 points. He also had eight boards, four assists, a block, a steal and zero turnovers in 28 minutes.
“He didn’t get many touches in the first half,” Pangos said. “In the second half he was great. He did a little of everything.”
Wiltjer was quiet in the first half, in part because of the effectiveness of Sabonis and Karnowski.
“Just staying positive,” Wiltjer said. “Sometimes when you’re a scorer and you don’t score you kind of get down on yourself. I tried to stay as positive as possible. When I was open I tried to shoot.”
--It was somewhat lost in the shadows of Wiltjer’s huge second half and Sabonis huge game overall, but freshman guard Silas Melson’s nine first-half points came at a key time. Zags guards Pangos (5), Gary Bell Jr. (0), Kyle Dranginis (0) and Byron Wesley (2) combined for just seven first-half points.
Melson hit both of his 3-point attempts and made a steal and dunk. He added another field goal in the second half to finish with 11 points in just 13 minutes.
STATS OF NOTE
--Sabonis 9-of-9 effort from the field moved him to 73.2 percent for the season, 75 percent in WCC play.
--The Zags beat up the Waves on the offensive glass with 12 boards, good for an 18-2 edge in second-chance points.
--GU hasn’t had many close calls with the Waves in its streak of 27 straight wins. GU won 91-84 at the MAC in 2010, 82-75 in Malibu in 2005 and 96-90 in a 2002 WCC Tournament game in San Diego.
--Take away Wiltjer's 6 of 7 and GU was 8 of 26 at free-throw line. Byron Wesley was just 3 of 10. No Zag beside Wiltjer made better than 50 percent.
--Few picked up his 200th career WCC win. He’s 200-24 in conference in 16 seasons.
--Pangos (279) is one away from tying Richie Frahm for second on GU’s career 3-point list.
Wiltjer: “We just got down on each other and just missed some free throws."
Few on Pangos missing two straight free throws: “I’ve never seen it. He’s a 90-percent guy.”
Pangos: “Defense is the big thing. We’re going to be great offensively but we have to play better defensively.”
Wiltjer on Davis in the first half: “We were able to limit his touches and other guys were getting going.”