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Gonzaga Basketball

No. 1 Gonzaga tries to extend mastery over Pepperdine

Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs, who scored 18 points, draws a foul on Pepperdine’s Sedrick Altman during the first half of the Bulldogs’ 95-70 home win on Jan. 14.  (By Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Things can change in a hurry within a college basketball game – see Gonzaga-Pepperdine on Jan. 14 – and within the span of a few weeks during a season – see the Gonzaga-Pepperdine rematch Saturday?

Then again, nothing seems to change in the Gonzaga-Pepperdine series.

The Bulldogs turned a four-point halftime lead into another blowout, 95-70, in the first meeting two weeks ago. Pepperdine was playing for the first time in three weeks due to COVID-19 concerns.

The Waves (7-7, 3-2 West Coast Conference) have found their footing since that loss – their 40th straight dating back to 2002 in the one-sided series – by winning three of their past four, including 76-73 over visiting BYU on Wednesday. Pepperdine is one of four two-loss WCC teams behind Gonzaga (16-0, 7-0).

The Waves appear to be playing their best basketball entering Saturday’s rematch with the top-ranked Zags at 5 p.m. at Firestone Fieldhouse in Malibu, California. ESPN will televise the game.

“I think Pepperdine is a really, really talented team,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “I saw what Kessler Edwards did the other night (37 points in an easy win over Pacific).”

Edwards, a 6-foot-8 junior forward, and senior point guard Colbey Ross, the program’s all-time scoring and assists leader, are always at the top of the scouting report. Edwards is first in scoring (20.2) in conference games with Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert (19.7) in second.

Those two combined for 37 points and 13 rebounds against BYU, but they had help from the bench – Darryl Polk Jr., Jan Zidek and Jadé Smith combined for 23 points – and guard Sedrick Altman chipped in 11 points and nine boards.

Gonzaga rebounded from slower starts recently against Pepperdine, Saint Mary’s and San Diego to post comfortable wins.

“There’s just no juice in any of these places, our place, their place,” Few said after Thursday’s 90-62 win over San Diego inside a nearly empty Jenny Craig Pavilion. “We’re talking about it, the guys know it. They’re trying but at the end of the day, these are not festive environments of college basketball right now so we’re all having to figure that thing out.”

Pepperdine, No. 134 in the NET rankings and No. 128 in KenPom’s metrics, has one of the better offenses in the WCC but ranks eighth in scoring defense. The Waves’ challenge is the same as every opponent that faces the Zags: slowing down the nation’s most efficient offense.

Gonzaga is No. 1 in scoring (94.1) and field-goal percentage (55.0), and third in assists (20.1). Kispert, Drew Timme, Jalen Suggs and Joel Ayayi combine to average 65.2 points per game.