When Gonzaga’s defense collects pass deflections, opponents’ shooting percentages and point totals generally drop.
Such was the case again as 25th-ranked Gonzaga set the tone on defense in a 73-45 West Coast Conference men’s basketball rout over Pepperdine in front of 6,000 Thursday at the McCarthey Athletic Center. In a 90-51 drubbing of Portland last week, Gonzaga had more than 50 deflections. The Bulldogs surpassed 40 against the Waves.
Pepperdine’s 45 points, 13 field goals, 28.3-percent shooting and four assists were season lows by a Gonzaga opponent. The Bulldogs had 13 steals, a season high, which they converted into 15 points.
“We’ve put together a string of about four games where our defense has been very good and that’s a good sign,” head coach Mark Few said. “We had another high number of deflections. We contested every shot and disrupted their offense. We did a nice job on their two bigs (Corbin Moore and Taylor Darby).”
Gonzaga’s seven-game winning streak coincides with improving defensive statistics. Xavier’s 65 points represents the high-water mark against Gonzaga in that span and three teams were held to 55 points or less. Air Force made 52.4 percent from the field in a low-possession game that Gonzaga won 70-60, but the other six foes were held under 43 percent.
Darby and Moore, who combine to average 23 points and 15 rebounds, managed just 12 points and eight boards.
“We were defensive-minded,” GU sophomore forward Sam Dower said. “We’re holding teams down from the 2 and the 3 and we don’t overlook anybody. We treat every team the same.”
Gonzaga (12-2, 2-0 WCC) scored the first eight points then went cold from beyond the 3-point line against Pepperdine’s zone. The Waves (7-7, 1-2) slowed the pace to a crawl and pulled within 15-12 on Caleb Willis’ two free throws with 9:11 remaining.
Robert Sacre, one of four Zags to score in double figures, hit a jump hook to start a 10-0 run that was fueled by Gary Bell Jr.’s four points and the first of Mathis Mönninghoff’s three 3-pointers. The Bulldogs’ full-court press bothered the Waves, who committed 10 turnovers and trailed 38-20 at half.
“It was just a basic press that we’ve seen quite a bit,” Pepperdine first-year head coach Marty Wilson said. “We’ve seen quicker, more athletic and different types of traps and presses. I was surprised how poorly we handled it.”
Bell finished with a season-best 15 points, 12 in the first half. Sacre added 11 points and nine boards. Elias Harris had 10 points, eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Kevin Pangos contributed 11 points and three steals.
Pepperdine went to a zone within the first 3 minutes, which led to Gonzaga attempting 27 3-pointers. The Bulldogs made 10, with Mönninghoff’s 3-pointer snapping a string of six straight misses from long distance.
“I felt it in shoot-around, I kind of had a feeling it was going to go in,” said Bell, who was 3 of 6 on 3s. Pepperdine’s zone “was good for us, we were hitting some 3s.”
Eleven Bulldogs scored and logged double-digit minutes. Nobody played more than Pangos’ 23 minutes. The Bulldogs made just 41 percent from the field – their lowest since hitting 40 percent against Hawaii on Nov. 19 – but they had no complaints about the quality of looks.
“Our shots weren’t falling early, but they were good shots,” Few said. “Eventually with this team the shots are going to drop.”
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