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 on offense, defense and perhaps most important, 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 is 7-21, 3-9.
“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.”
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 the 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.”
“We just didn’t want to have that feeling we had on Thursday,” Gray said. “We just wanted to show who we are as a team, not the sleepy, lackadaisical team that has randomly made appearances this year.”
(13) Gonzaga 72, Pepperdine 54
Percentages: FG .529, FT .611. 3-Point Goals: 7-18, .389 (Harris 1-2, Goodson 0-1, Bouldin 4-8, Gray 2-5, Gibbs 0-1, Olynyk 0-1). Team Rebounds: 6. Blocked Shots: 11 (Sacre 6). Turnovers: 10 (Sacre 4). Steals: 2 (Goodson, Gray). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .271, FT .600. 3-Point Goals: 4-20, .200 (Thompson 2-8, Bell 1-3, Willis 0-1, Lowery 1-2, Jackson 0-4, Dupre 0-2). Team Rebounds: 4. Blocked Shots: 2 (Bell, Moore). Turnovers: 11 (Three with 3). Steals: 3 (Three with 1). Technical Fouls: None.
Halftime–GU 40, Pepperdine 19. A–3,021.