Nothing seemed to come easy for Gonzaga on Thursday but it was even harder for Pepperdine.
The 7th-ranked Zags ran hot and cold, sometimes on the same play, but they shut down Pepperdine in the second half for a 92-62 victory in the WCC opener for both teams at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Gonzaga’s uneven play didn’t surprise coach Mark Few. The players enjoyed rare in-season time off for the holiday break and the Zags’ last game was Dec. 21.
“We gave them a few extra days to rest up over the holiday and practices have just been OK,” Few said, “but that will serve us well down the road.”
Gonzaga (13-0) seemed to find their groove for a few possessions in the first half, then commit an unforced turnover or lose track of a defensive assignment.
On one play, Przemek Karnowski missed from point-blank range twice before making a putback. The Zags started slowly with four turnovers in the first four minutes.
“You’re not going to have peak energy every night,” guard Nigel Williams-Goss said. “To come out with a 30-point win on a night like this is a testament to the way we responded in the second half.
“We know we didn’t play anywhere near the level we expect of ourselves. We’ll just try to get better the next game.”
Five Zags reached double figures with Karnowski and Williams-Goss each scoring 16 points. Jordan Mathews had 15 points on five 3-pointers.
“Those are just wheelhouse shots, I work on them all the time,” Mathews said. “Just have my feet ready, that’s something me and coach talked about, having my feet ready at all times.”
Gonzaga defeated the Waves (4-9) for the 32nd straight time.
The Zags led 44-37 at half but finally opened up a comfortable margin with a 15-5 spurt that extended the lead to 62-45 with 11:06 remaining.
Killian Tillie had two dunks on lob passes from Williams-Goss and the freshman forward added a jump hook in the lane. Karnowski chipped in four points during the run.
“Those two (lob dunks) were drawn-up plays our coaches put in this week and I thought we did a good job of executing,” Williams-Goss said.
Junior guard Silas Melson provided some stability in an occasionally ragged opening half. He scored nine points off the bench, including a follow dunk, a nifty drive for a layup and a 3-pointer.
“I think he’s the one guy, he usually comes in and he’s been like that all year,” Few said. “He knows that’s one of the things he has to bring and I thought he did bring that. He was one of the lone bright spots in the first half and then some other guys got going in the second half.”
Melson, who has shown he’s comfortable starting or coming off the bench, finished with 13 points and three rebounds.
“It’s part of coming off the bench,” he said. “You watch the first five minutes and see what first five are doing, you read what the other team is doing. It doesn’t do any good to come off the bench and make the same mistakes the first five were. You just try to provide that spark.”
Jordan Mathews and Jalon Wilson, son of Pepperdine coach Marty Wilson, played against each other for years, including a memorable high school showdown between Santa Monica and Palisades.
“It was a great game our senior year. He went to Palisades, which was our rival up the street,” Mathews said. “It was like the most packed game in Santa Monica history.”
Santa Monica won in double overtime.
“He was really, really good,” Mathews said of Jalon, who played in junior college and now attends Pepperdine.