There are any number of ways to win a basketball game and Gonzaga explored some different avenues Saturday.
The Zags, who have led at half, often comfortably, in 21 games, played from behind essentially the entire first half. Their bigs weren’t as effective inside as they’ve been most of the season and the perimeter shooters, with one notable exception, didn’t make Pepperdine pay.
But Gonzaga’s defense reeled in the Waves in the second half and senior guard Kevin Pangos struck for four 3-pointers and 19 points to lift the third-ranked Zags to a hard-earned 56-48 West Coast Conference men’s basketball victory witnessed by 6,000 at McCarthey Athletic Center.
Gonzaga’s 19th straight win came despite scoring its fewest points since falling to Memphis 60-54 last season in February. It was Gonzaga’s lowest point total in a win since Sam Dower Jr.’s last-second 3-pointer provided a 54-52 victory against Santa Clara last January.
“It’s February,” coach Mark Few said. “These games aren’t going to be pretty. They’re going to be mucked up and rugged.”
This was all that, but the Zags (26-1, 14-0 WCC) were pretty clean at both ends the first 10 minutes of the second half. They broke away from a halftime tie with a 16-3 run to take a 46-33 lead.
Byron Wesley drove and scored from close range to give GU its first lead, 32-30. Pangos nailed a pair of 3s and a floater in the lane and Wesley added four more points to fuel the run.
Gonzaga led 52-37 after Kyle Wiltjer’s bucket with 6:45 left. The Waves (15-11, 8-7) trailed by at least a dozen until the final 35 seconds.
“The teams we are playing have to take something away, either our guards or our bigs,” center Przemek Karnowski said. “They tried to dig down a lot in the post and at first we didn’t do a good job. But then Kevin got on fire and that’s what got us ahead.”
Gonzaga finished with just 24 points in the paint. Wiltjer had 13 points and Domantas Sabonis added 10. The Zags made just 5 of 18 3s, including Pangos’ 4-of-6 effort.
The Waves, picking up where they left off in the second half of Gonzaga’s 78-76 win last month in Malibu, hit 54 percent of their first-half shots. They didn’t get nearly as many open looks in the final 20 minutes. Pepperdine was limited to seven field goals, 29 percent shooting and just 18 points in the second half.
“We missed shots early and they were making shots,” guard Gary Bell Jr. said. “We kind of just shut them down in the second half.”
Pepperdine missed all 10 of its 3-point shots. Point guard Jeremy Major was 0 of 12 from the field before hitting three shots late, two in the final 35 seconds.
GU wasn’t sharp early, falling behind 8-2 after 6½ minutes. A pair of Pangos 3s and one from Wiltjer helped the Zags pull even at 30 at half.
Few labeled Gonzaga’s 30-point half as “mostly bad offense. Pretty stagnant and guys not knocking down open 3s.”
Pangos made 7 of 13 shots, his first time with double-digit field-goal attempts since Saint Mary’s on Jan. 22.
“I noticed early we needed some sort of spark so I was just trying to be aggressive,” he said. “I took some tough ones, too, but I think it helped get the team going a little. And obviously Byron was great defensively and we got some stops, which got our energy going.”
The victory was the 113th for Pangos and Bell, making the pair Gonzaga’s all-time winningest seniors, eclipsing the 112 of last year’s seniors.
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