All game long, ESPN’s Roxy Bernstein and Corey Williams kept harping on something every Gonzaga fan knows as well as the names of their children.
When on the road in the West Coast Conference, the Bulldogs are going to get their opponent’s best effort.
They certainly did Saturday night in Malibu, California, from Pepperdine. Then again, the Waves gave GU all it could handle in Spokane as well. That one went down to the wire. This time the Zags went on a decisive run early in the second half and held off the Waves, 89-77 at a packed Firestone Fieldhouse.
What they saw …
• Williams, who continues to improve in the analyst’s role, knew what the Waves needed to do to compete with the nation’s second-ranked team.
“Slow the game down,” he said before the tip.
It wasn’t something Lorenzo Romar’s team could do. And yet, with 16 minutes left, the game was tied at 43 as the teams headed to their benches for the media break.
A little more than 2 minutes later, Romar had to call a timeout. The Zags (26-1, 12-0 WCC) had put together a 13-2 run, creating the separation they needed.
As Williams, a former Arizona star, pointed out, that’s what Gonzaga does.
What they also do, especially when Killian Tillie has to sit with his ankle injury, as he had to do in this one, is feed Filip Petrusev.
The 6-foot-11 sophomore post carried the Zags in the first half, scoring 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting. And yet, during the Bulldogs’ second-half run, he scored just two points. The rest of the points came from the guards.
Petrusev finished with 27, which meant the scoring wasn’t as balanced as usual. Instead of seven players scoring in double figures, as Gonzaga averages, the Zags had “just” six, with Corey Kispert getting hot after halftime and finishing with 19, Joel Ayayi and Admon Gilder with 11 apiece, and Drew Timme and Ryan Woolridge each adding 10.
How do the Zags do it? Williams had a theory.
“Nobody goes off script and goes one-on-one,” he said, citing an offense that seems to get, as he saw it, players shots in the places they needed to get them.
What we saw …
• Not sure if the number 38 is unlucky or not, but it certainly showed up often before this one started.
It was the number of consecutive times Gonzaga had defeated the Waves (14-13, 7-6). It was also the number of consecutive WCC regular-season games the Zags had won. And it was also the number of consecutive conference road wins for GU.
Add one to each of those totals. The key?
“They were tested, they were pushed, but they responded,” said Williams of the Zags’ formula in this one.
By the way, the loss was Pepperdine’s 38th consecutive to a ranked team.
• It’s not often a game begins as slowly as this one did, mainly because of a nearly 5-minute replay review that resulted in a flagrant foul.
But that’s what happened.
Sedrick Altman was called for an overenthusiastic block-out on Drew Timme less than 4 minutes in. The three officials, Kevin Brill, Randy Richardson and Tom Spitznagel, went to the monitor to determine if it was a hook with an elbow, that under the rules is a flagrant if it is done in an attempt to draw a foul.
That was part of the rule Williams kept pointing to as the replay was shown.
He didn’t feel the intent was there. The officials disagreed.
“Tough call,” Williams said, not giving up, “but if you go by the letter of the law – tough call.”
There were more – for both teams.
The key matchup …
• Colbey Ross is about as good as it gets at the guard spot in the WCC. And the junior showed it early on, scoring 10 points in the first 12 minutes.
But he picked up his second foul trying to keep Petrusev out of the key and had to sit.
Funny, when he left the Waves were down four. When he returned – Romar gambled and brought him back with 1:54 left before intermission – Pepperdine trailed by two. And Ross didn’t pick up his third foul.
But his offensive run was derailed. He finished with a team-high 23 points but was more than offset by Petrusev – and Gonzaga’s balance.
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