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Zags exploit mismatches inside and out against Pepperdine

Gonzaga forward Zach Collins, right, blocks a shot by Pepperdine forward Chris Reyes during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, in Malibu, Calif. Gonzaga won 96-49. (Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)
Gonzaga forward Zach Collins, right, blocks a shot by Pepperdine forward Chris Reyes during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, in Malibu, Calif. Gonzaga won 96-49. (Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

MALIBU, Calif. – Pepperdine’s student section was ready at tipoff with coordinated cheers. They knew when ESPN cameras were pointed in their direction and responded with full volume.

Then the game started.

Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss took advantage of a switch and dropped a mid-range jumper over Waves center Chris Reyes. Przemek Karnowski, six inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than Nolan Taylor, had two easy dunks.

Near the 13-minute mark, Williams-Goss took 5-foot-10 freshman guard Elijah Lee inside and Josh Perkins blew by Jonathan Allen for a layup.

The students made a game effort to stay involved, but some hit the exits when Gonzaga’s lead reached 22 points at half.

So many mismatches, and No. 3 Gonzaga seemed to take advantage of every one of them in a 96-49 victory over the Waves on Saturday at Firestone Fieldhouse.

SWX

The Zags (22-0, 10-0 WCC) will find out Monday if they’ve done enough to reach No. 1 in the nation. It figures to be a close call. No. 2 Kansas rebounded from Tuesday’s loss and won on the road against Kentucky. No. 1 Villanova has a showdown with Virginia on Sunday.

Karnowski, Johnathan Williams and Zach Collins exploited the smaller Waves’ in the paint. Karnowski had two assists, both setting up dunks by Williams. Karnowski backed down Taylor or Reyes for easy buckets in the lane. On one play, he split two Waves forwards for a close-range basket.

“He’s 8 feet tall,” a Pepperdine student shouted.

It probably seemed that way to some of the Waves defenders. It only got worse for Pepperdine when both teams went to the bench. Collins struck for 10 first-half points operating primarily against reserve Ryan Keenan.

“There aren’t a whole lot of teams in college basketball that have somebody like (Karnowski),” Zags coach Mark Few said. “We ran into one, Akron had someone similar to him. He’s a force. He’s scoring the ball as well as he’s ever scored it and he’s always been an outstanding passer.

“And then you surround him with some guys that can knock down 3s, that’s a good combination.”

The Zags’ shooting percentage was floating between 75 and 80 when Pepperdine switched to a zone defense midway through the first half. GU sputtered momentarily, missing three straight shots.

The Zags adjusted quickly, again zeroing in on favorable matchups. Williams-Goss took a smaller guard into the lane and scored on a floater and Karnowski bullied Reyes inside for another basket.

“They set the tone early on with their size,” Waves coach Marty Wilson said. “They pounded the ball inside and made easy opportunities for themselves. They are a matchup problem for most teams in the country with their size and physicality.”

Pepperdine tried another change, this time picking up full court and then trapping after the Zags got the ball over half-court. Gonzaga worked it through Jordan Mathews, who penetrated and then drained a pull-up jumper.

“That’s what good teams do, that’s what we have to do,” Mathews said. “You see a mismatch you have to attack it. That’s what we did.”

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