When Gonzaga completes the second leg of its California excursion in Malibu on Wednesday evening, it’ll be against a Pepperdine team that the 23rd-ranked Zags have faced twice a year since 1988-89 season and haven’t lost to since 2016.
But Pepperdine has also changed dramatically from the team that finished sixth in the conference last year and upset BYU in the conference tournament in Las Vegas.
While coach Lisa Fortier’s Zags were going back and forth in their West Coast Conference opener with Loyola Marymount on Monday night, the Waves were locked in a battle with Portland, leading by as much as 10 in the second quarter. The Pilots rallied before halftime and led by as much as 12 in the final quarter – in no small part thanks to 22 turnovers that led to 24 points.
But unlike the Zags, which return just less than 80% of their scoring and rebounding from last year, coach Kristen Dowling’s Waves (3-2, 0-1 WCC) boast seven new players – four transfers. Even after canceling a season opener against UCLA and a nonconference road game against Cal State Fullerton, Dowling’s lineup has shown spurts of measured, balanced offense in its first five games.
“They have a good combo of skilled players and returners,” GU senior forward Jenn Wirth said.
“There are a lot of new faces, but the style of play is still similar to years past.”
Buoyed by do-it-all junior guard Malia Mabrick (13.8 points per game on 41.9% shooting) and senior forward Monique Andriuolo (11.6 points and a team-high 7.4 rebounds per game), Pepperdine is averaging 64.4 points per game, shooting 44.1% from the floor and 39.7% from long range.
Two transfer guards – junior Cheyenne Givens and sophomore Cydney Rivera – are among the team’s top four scorers with 10.8 and 6.4 points, respectively, per game. Rivera leads the team in steals and assist-turnover ratio.
“Pepperdine is really athletic and aggressive off the dribble and ball screens,” Fortier said. “They play good position defense and make you work for your points. We need to really focus in on player personnel and stick together on both sides of the ball.”
The Zags will also be facing a set of twins in redshirt sophomore guards Jayda and Jayla Ruffus-Milner, who both start and play upward of 25 minutes a game.
They present an interesting matchup against Gonzaga’s Truong twins with similar size and more defensive roles, if not for the sake of novelty alone.
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