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Analysis: Gonzaga’s bigs pave way in easy win over Pepperdine

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 4, 2018, 11:22 p.m.

MALIBU, Calif. – Pick a stat.

Paint points. Second-chance points. Bench points. Rebounds.

All Gonzaga. More accurately, almost all Gonzaga bigs.

The 19th-ranked Zags leaned on their big men and they delivered in a big way, carrying Gonzaga to an 89-59 victory over outmanned Pepperdine in front of 2,930 Thursday at Firestone Fieldhouse.

“We kind of established our bigs and we were able to play inside out,” Zags coach Mark Few said, “which we haven’t really been able to do much this year, as much as we have in the past.”

France native Killian Tillie, playing with his parents in the audience, snapped Gonzaga (13-3, 3-0 WCC) to attention after a slow start. Larsen had a pair of buckets as GU caught up at 7.

Tillie drilled a pair of 3-pointers to start a 15-0 run that put Pepperdine in a double-digit hole it wouldn’t escape. His treys had the added bonus of opening up even more room for the posts to operate.

“They left me open,” said Tillie, who buried three 3s en route to 22 points in 25 minutes. “I didn’t hesitate and they went in.”

Reserve forward Rui Hachimura got busy shortly after entering, piling up nine straight points as the Zags built a 22-9 advantage. He snagged a couple of offensive rebounds and swatted away Harrison Meads’ dunk attempt.

The Zags’ first 22 points came from their four bigs. Their first points by a guard came with 6:38 left in the half when Josh Perkins drove for a layup.

“Early on Rui and Larsen really helped us,” Few said. “They figured out you could attack the offensive boards, got us some extra possessions and some putbacks, and kept the defensive momentum going that the starters created.”

Pepperdine (3-12, 0-3), playing without talented sophomore forward Kameron Edwards (concussion), couldn’t match up with Gonzaga’s size and interior depth.

The Waves’ Trae Berhow, a promising freshman wing, is three inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter than Hachimura. Larsen had too much size for 6-foot-9 Washington transfer Matthew Atewe and Johnathan Williams was more mobile than the Waves’ center.

“If you put the ball inside first, it scrambles the defense and they have to react to that,” said Larsen, who finished with nine points and five boards. “Then you kick it out to an open 3 or the next action to get the offense going.”

Williams subbed back in for Larsen and he scored six straight points as Gonzaga’s lead grew to 33-17. The Waves pulled within 12 late in the half but freshman wing Corey Kispert connected on a 3-pointer and a three-point play, courtesy of Zach Norvell Jr.’s steal and pass, with 1.7 seconds left as the Zags took a 41-23 lead at the break.

Nothing changed at the outset of the second half. Tillie scored on a jump hook and pretty drive down the lane in the first minute to bump Gonzaga’s lead to 22.

“I had to play good in front of them,” said Tillie, with his parents standing nearby. “It was cool to have a good game.

“We were just bigger, stronger, executed the game plan and defended pretty well.”

Pepperdine tried to slow Gonzaga’s inside game by switching to a zone defense near the 17-minute mark. The Zags didn’t change their approach, finding Williams for an easy layup.

Junior guard Eric Cooper tried to keep the Waves in it with 10 points in the first eight minutes of the second half but Gonzaga made 9 of its first 14 shots and maintained a comfortable 62-38 lead. Cooper, a transfer from Nevada, finished with 19 points.

The final numbers reflected Gonzaga’s inside dominance; Paint points: 48-14, bench points 36-13, second-chance points 15-2 and rebounds 39-29.

The Zags face Loyola Marymount (5-9, 0-3) on Saturday. Santa Clara beat the Lions 65-49 Thursday in Los Angeles.


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