The Gonzaga Bulldogs are ranked No. 1, riding an eight-game winning streak and they’re 2-0 in the WCC.
And just like every team in college basketball, the Zags have several items to address on their to-do list.
Some of those made repeat appearances Saturday as the Zags outlasted Pepperdine 75-70 in front of another packed house of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“Two games in a row we’ve come out pretty flat,” junior wing Corey Kispert said in reference to GU’s sleepy first-half in Thursday’s 85-72 road win over Portland. “It’s disappointing that we can’t get things going early. These teams in this league are good enough if you give them hope and life, they’re going to start making shots and making plays.
“That’s what Pepperdine did. They did a good job of capitalizing when we messed up. We were lucky to come out of there with a win.”
Similar to Thursday, Gonzaga’s veterans came through to nudge the Zags to the finish line for their 32nd straight home victory.
Killian Tillie, who led GU with 20 points, had a huge block and several baskets in crunch time. Filip Petrusev added 16 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Joel Ayayi buried a key 3-pointer en route to 12 points. Admon Gilder came off the bench to provide 11 points, five boards, four steals and two free throws with 4.6 seconds left to ice the victory.
Gonzaga (16-1) threatened to pull away several times, but the Waves (7-9, 0-2 WCC) wouldn’t go away.
Ayayi’s 3-pointer and Tillie’s dunk gave Gonzaga a 71-63 lead with 3:10 remaining, but Pepperdine answered with Skylar Chavez’s 3-pointer and a pair of Colbey Ross free throws.
Tillie got loose again for a layup off a Kispert feed to put the Zags up 73-68 with 1:07 left. Then things got a bit dicey. Kameron Edwards drove for a dunk to cut Gonzaga’s lead to three.
Tillie lost the ball driving into the lane late in the shot clock, but Pepperdine was whistled for kicking the ball, resetting the shot clock to 20 seconds. Kessler Edwards was then called for a foul on Kispert that was met with protests from the Waves’ bench that Kispert had traveled.
Kispert missed the front end of a 1-and-1, but Tillie switched off his man to swat a potential tying 3-pointer by Ross. Gilder retrieved the loose ball and was fouled. His free throws sealed Pepperdine’s third consecutive loss.
“I could see (Ross) just wanted to shoot a 3 (with) the high screen,” Tillie said. “I just jumped on him and blocked it. That’s what we needed.”
The Zags needed Gilder, too, and the senior guard came through at both ends of the floor. He scored seven of his 11 points in the second half.
“He was great, and it was because of his energy and hustle and making plays,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “We needed more proactive plays. We were getting a little reactive and they’ll put you on your heels. They can really drive you at a bunch of different spots, and obviously they have a ‘5’ (Jan Zidek) that can shoot deep 3s (so) it’s tough.”
Ross, the junior point guard who was All-WCC first team last season, was outstanding with 24 points and 10 assists, but he also committed 10 turnovers.
The Zags weren’t exactly clean in the turnover department. They finished with a season-high 17 turnovers and another so-so night at the free-throw line (14 of 21). There were defensive lapses that left Pepperdine’s better perimeter shooters, Zidek and Chavez, free for open 3-pointers.
Tillie pointed out that some of those might have been due to another underlying issue.
“We have to get better at coming into the games and being focused on everything, the scouting report,” the senior forward said. “We have to improve our intensity and improve our focus.”
The Zags seemed to be missing some energy and fire after playing their third game in six days.
“We’ve played a lot of games (in six days) and guys are kind of beaten to a pulp a little bit,” Kispert said. “Those are all excuses. Energy is something you can control. You have to come out more prepared to play every night.”
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