MALIBU, Calif. – Sam Dower Jr. tossed aside his back brace. Kevin Pangos got back to shifting speeds to navigate past defenders. Drew Barham was a pest on defense and a spark at the other end of the floor.
And Gonzaga’s defense returned to contesting every shot, hounding every Pepperdine player who attempted to penetrate the lane.
If it looked familiar, it should. It’s essentially how the Bulldogs performed at home in a dominating four-game stretch, but this time they took it on the road and roughed up Pepperdine 70-53 in front of 3,092 Thursday at Firestone Fieldhouse.
The Waves (11-8, 4-3) came in with a chance to overtake Gonzaga (15-3, 5-1) for first place in the WCC. They left with season lows in points and field-goal percentage (32.7). Waves fans, revved up for the first 10 minutes, started heading for the exits in the final 10 minutes as Gonzaga’s lead reached 26 points.
A week after getting outplayed and outworked by Portland, the Bulldogs were the aggressors and retrieved nearly all of the 50-50 balls.
“When we play like that we can be pretty good,” said Few, following GU’s 25th straight win over the Waves. “That’s playing with more energy and more effort. You can do both. We needed to be in the gaps, but you can still close out on shooters.”
Not to mention contest shots in the paint without fouling, draw charges and limit the opponent to one shot. Stacy Davis, who averages 15.5 points, scored 12 points, but made just 5 of 13 shots and committed six turnovers. Brendan Lane finished with seven points and four rebounds, roughly half of his averages. Freshman point guard Jeremy Major (11.7 ppg, 4.5 assists) had one field goal and one assist.
“I think (Davis) got frustrated,” said Dower, who scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half. “It was just our defense. We were in the gaps because we know he can drive it.”
Dower said it was the best he’s felt since injuring his lower back against Kansas State nearly a month ago. He hauled in eight rebounds, six in the second half.
“I told Jen (Nyland, trainer) I didn’t think I needed (the brace), that had something to do with it,” said Dower, who made all seven of his shot attempts. “I’m still icing it after games but I’m feeling better.”
Pangos started to warm up when the Bulldogs went on a 23-3 run to close the first half. Bothered by turf toe for more than five weeks, Pangos scored on drives to the basket, a pull-up jumper and a couple of 3-pointers en route to 14 points.
“The coaches told me to get back to changing speeds,” he said. “I know I don’t have the same acceleration but I used deceptiveness to get by some guys.”
The Waves aren’t an offensive juggernaut but they came in shooting 47 percent, 38.4 on 3s. They maintained a lead through the first 10 minutes but the final 10 minutes of the half were a nightmare. Gonzaga had perhaps its best defensive stretch of the season, yielding Davis’ field goal and a Brendan Lane free throw over Pepperdine’s last 18 possessions. Lane looked to have an open avenue for a dunk, but was challenged at the rim by Kyle Dranginis.
The Bulldogs’ help defense closed off Pepperdine’s penetration and they were still able to recover to challenge 3-point shooters. The Waves made 1 of 8 first-half 3s. Barham drew a charging foul on Davis and slid into the lane to force an errant shot by Major.
Barham also jump-started Gonzaga’s offense with a layup off a Pangos’ feed and a pair of a 3s late as Gonzaga took command 39-21 at half.
“When he’s hitting 3s and getting rebounds and flying around,” Pangos said, “it adds a big piece to our team.”
Przemek Karnowski contributed 11 points, four boards, two assists and two blocks.
Dranginis had eight rebounds, five points and three assists for the Bulldogs