MALIBU, Calif. – Head coach Mark Few is pleased with Gonzaga’s performance through 14 nonconference 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.