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Gonzaga Basketball

TV Take: Gonzaga outlasts opportunistic Pepperdine squad, avoids another Senior Night letdown

By Vince Grippi Vince Grippi For The Spokesman-Review

During halftime of Gonzaga’s 81-67 win over Pepperdine on Saturday night, Richard Fox used a word that seemed apropos when describing the way the Waves were playing.

It was “opportunistic.”

The ninth-ranked Zags, as they have done in their past three Senior Nights, kept giving the visiting team opportunities. And Pepperdine, with a record that is almost the mirror image of Gonzaga’s, in a bad way, seemed poised to take advantage.

After all, the Zags, as play-by-play man Greg Heister pointed out on the KAYU broadcast, had yielded double-digit second-half leads in their past two Senior Nights and lost both.

But a late 11-0 run keyed by one of the seniors, Johnathan Williams, and helped along by sophomore Kilian Tillie, broke the Waves and allowed Gonzaga to preserve a home win streak against Pepperdine that dates back to the previous century.

What they saw …

The Waves came in with a lame-duck coach, Marty Wilson, who was told early this week he wouldn’t be back next season. So, Thursday night Pepperdine honored their coach by taking BYU to overtime before losing.

That defeat dropped the Waves to 4-23. It was a record Heister pointed out as they battled the Zags early in the second half.

“Watching them tonight, you wouldn’t think that (was their record)” he said, correctly.

The difference was, as Fox pointed out, that Pepperdine was taking care of the ball – just nine turnovers – and shooting well from beyond the arc after halftime – 7 of 13 after hitting just 1 of 6 before the intermission.

That combination, Fox noted, is tough to deal with.

The Zags (25-4, 15-1 in WCC play) countered with some opportunistic plays themselves. After having built a seven-point edge at the half – it was as much as 14 at one point – they came out of the locker room ready to put the Waves away.

“The first five minutes of the second half will be critical for Pepperdine,” Fox said before noting the Zags had been really good at the start of every half in recent games.

And they were again. They went on a 13-6 run before the first media timeout and once again led by 14.

“It’s these quick spurts by Gonzaga that makes them so tough,” Fox said.

But it’s the slow slippage that allows outmanned teams – at 1-15 in conference, Pepperdine is certainly that – to get back into games.

The Waves slowly reeled GU in and, with 7 minutes, 32 seconds to play, had cut the Zags’ lead to two, 66-64. The McCarthey Athletic Center wasn’t all that loud anymore.

But Tillie took over, hitting a 3-pointer and then making a nice dish out of a double-team for a Williams dunk. He finished with 15 points (on 6-of-9 shooting) and six rebounds.

“You want to see a versatile big,” Fox asked rhetorically. “That would be Killian Tillie.”

Meanwhile, the Gonzaga defense, which Fox and Heister spent the pregame praising, asserted itself again as Pepperdine went almost 6 minutes without scoring.

What we saw …

The best part of Senior Night is, of course, the senior players being honored.

There was Williams, who posted his sixth consecutive double-double (18 points and 12 rebounds). There was Silas Melson, who scored nine points despite being limited a bit by first-half foul trouble.

And there was Brian Pete, the manager-turned-player who only earned his uniform this season. He started, along with Williams, Melson, Tillie and Josh Perkins, and it didn’t seem all that much out of the ordinary.

Other than the Kennel Club couldn’t seem to stop chanting his name, of course.

They got really loud less than 3 minutes in when Pete took a pass, used a ball screen and penetrated into the paint. Taking his time, the 6-1 guard rose up and nailed a 10-foot jumper to give GU a 6-4 lead.

“He was a manager just a few months ago,” Heister exclaimed.

“Unbelievable,” Fox said. “He turns the corner off the pick like he’s been doing it for four years.”

“Even the managers can play at Gonzaga,” Heister added.

With that, Zach Norvell took his place.

But no one could say Pete didn’t make the most of his opportunity.