The stats and final outcome looked pretty much like every Gonzaga game this season.
How the top-ranked Bulldogs arrived there didn’t.
Gonzaga had uneven stretches at both ends of the court, encountered major foul trouble, matched its season high for turnovers – and still hit its season averages and still won going away, 95-70, over Pepperdine on Thursday night.
The Waves (4-6, 0-1 West Coast Conference) gave Gonzaga fits for the second straight year at the McCarthey Athletic Center, but this time it only lasted 25 minutes. The Zags (13-0, 4-0) recovered from a disjointed first half with a smooth closing 20 minutes, more than enough to handle an opponent that hadn’t played in three weeks due to COVID-19 concerns.
“The first thing I’d say is we’re not just going to blow everybody out in the first half. It’s just not going to happen,” coach Mark Few said after Gonzaga’s 12th win by double digits. “We’re going to be in battles.
“We missed some shots think we normally make, which happens in basketball, and we were a little sloppy. A lot of that was maybe due to Pepperdine’s quick hands and ability to make some plays around the rim. Their athleticism and length was messing with Drew (Timme) early, but we responded in the second half. That was a very good performance in the second half.”
Gonzaga led by double figures several times, but bouts with turnovers and missed defensive assignments prevented them from opening up a bigger cushion.
That changed early in the second half. Gonzaga put together its best stretch at both ends of the floor when its lead dwindled to 50-44.
It started right after an unforced turnover – the Zags finished with 18 – that left Few shaking his head on the sideline. Corey Kispert got loose for a three-point play in transition and Timme, after struggling to finish in the opening half, followed with two straight three-point plays.
Joel Ayayi sandwiched a 3-pointer around two Timme baskets and the Zags were comfortably on top, 72-50, with 8:45 remaining.
“It was being who we are,” said Kispert, who drilled six 3-pointers and scored a game-high 23 points. “Drew kind of slowed down in the post and made his moves. We moved the ball better on offense, found cutters and our transition was way better in the second half. We kind of just got back to doing what we do in the second half.”
That was the case on defense, too. Pepperdine hit 50% of its first-half shots, even with modest contributions from standouts Colbey Ross and Kessler Edwards.
The Waves didn’t get nearly as many open looks in the second half. They finished with three assists, nine field goals and 31 points on 31% shooting in the final 20 minutes.
“We were playing on our toes, making plays, guys like Anton (Watson), AC (Aaron Cook) and Joel got us going in that regard,” Kispert said. “We spent a lot of time on our heels in the first half, letting them dictate what they were doing.”
Ross, who leads the WCC in assists (7.2) and is second in scoring (19.0), never got untracked. He was 2 of 10 from the floor and finished with nine points, seven assists and six turnovers. Cook, rebounding from a rough first-half stint, kept Ross in check and also contributed three assists.
“I really thought Aaron got in there and probably guarded him as good as anybody,” Few said.
Ayayi finished with 19 points, six rebounds, four steals and two assists. Timme added 20 points, seven boards and four assists and Jalen Suggs heated up later in the second half to finish with 18 points. Watson chipped in 10 rebounds, six points and two steals.
Ayayi, Suggs and Nembhard battled foul trouble all night.
Gonzaga wasn’t sharp at either end in the opening half, but the Waves had something to do with it, finding scoring sources outside of Ross and Edwards and making the Zags work for their points.
“It was frustrating for me because we kept making the same kind of mistakes contextually, which was trying to make something out of nothing on the first side when they were pretty loaded up,” Few said. “It was a variety of guys.”
The Zags committed three turnovers in the final 1:40. Meanwhile, Edwards, who averages 17.2 points, hit his first two field goals – both 3-pointers – and backup point guard Darryl Polk Jr. beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer to cut Gonzaga’s lead to 43-39.
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