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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Andrew Nembhard records career-high 14 assists, steers No. 1 Gonzaga to 86-66 win over Pepperdine

Feb. 16, 2022 Updated Wed., Feb. 16, 2022 at 11:39 p.m.

MALIBU, Calif. – Gonzaga’s offensive balance can make it difficult to predict who will be scoring the points on a given night. On Wednesday at Pepperdine, it didn’t take much imagination to guess who’d be supplying most of the assists.

Andrew Nembhard found his teammates on high lobs. He found them on back-door cuts. He found them on bullet passes in transition. In total, Gonzaga’s veteran point guard found them for a career-high 14 assists, steering the Bulldogs’ offense past a resilient Pepperdine team for an 86-66 victory in front of 2,142 fans at Firestone Fieldhouse.

“I think I was just trying to keep it simple of reading the defense, understanding what their coverages were and then just executing the game plan,” Nembhard said. “I think I did that at a pretty high level tonight. … They were kind of pressuring me with two guys. Just reading the defense and keeping it simple.”

On a night when Nembhard may have been able to read Pepperdine’s defense with a blindfold over his eyes, the senior matched the second-most assists by a player in Gonzaga history – 14 by Joel Ayayi last season – and came out of Wednesday’s game with 3 minutes left, leaving him two assists short of the school record set by Blake Stepp in 2002.

Nembhard, who topped his personal assists record set against Long Beach State in 2019 while playing for Florida, only committed two turnovers and also totaled five rebounds. The Toronto native couldn’t recall his lifetime high off the top of his head, but acknowledged 14 assists is “pretty far up there.”

“That’s what he does, man,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “He’s an unbelievable passer, just a wizard in the ball screens. So we trust him, he’ll make the right read and he was making all the different reads and that’s kind of who he is.”

Chet Holmgren’s contributions on both ends of the floor were also key to helping the Zags (22-2, 11-0 West Coast Conference) move within one win of clinching an outright WCC regular-season title. The 7-foot center registered 18 points, matched his season high with 17 rebounds and also blocked four shots.

But more than anything else, it was Nembhard’s distribution that helped the Bulldogs establish a 21-point lead late in the first half and climb out of a slump in the second when Pepperdine closed the deficit to eight points – largely through the scoring and playmaking of freshman guard Houston Mallette.

The reigning WCC Freshman of the Week scored a game-high 25 points four days after posting a season-high 31 against BYU, but Nembhard, as Mallette’s primary defender, made it hard on the young guard and held him to 8 of 23 from the field and 2 of 8 from the 3-point line.

Asked if he felt it was Nembhard’s best game in terms of distribution and court visition, Few suggested the point guard has made it hard to choose with a large sample size that continues to grow by the week.

“I don’t know about that. UCLA and there’s been some other huge games,” Few said. “Obviously, you can see how valuable he is to us. Then he was chasing Mallette around who’s a heckuva player and has a ton of freedom and that’s a really, really hard guard.”

The Waves trimmed the deficit to 10 points on Mallette’s jumper with 13:33 to play and Firestone Fieldhouse erupted when Nolan Hickman was whistled for an offensive charge on GU’s next possession.

Pepperdine made it an eight-point game on Victor Ohia Obioha’s second-chance layup, but Drew Timme broke the Zags out of a scoring drought that lasted more than 2 minutes when he caught a post pass from Nembhard and converted off the glass while drawing a foul.

“I think we got back to taking care of the ball then were able to string together some stops,” Few said. “They were hitting some good, tough shots on us and we just kind of needed to step up and make a stand, especially on the defensive end. I think we were able to do that and finally got some baskets at the other end. We were stuck on 56 there for a while.”

Pepperdine cut the game to nine points on another Mallette jumper, but Julian Strawther scored a fast-break layup to make it 62-51 and Gonzaga led by double digits the rest of the way.

Timme led Gonzaga with 19 points on 9-of-17 shooting from the field and grabbed five rebounds. Anton Watson was the Bulldogs’ third frontcourt player in double figures, scoring 16 points. Rasir Bolton also had 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting.

Gonzaga turns its attention toward a home finale on Senior Night against Santa Clara (17-9, 7-4). The game will tip off at 6 p.m. Saturday .

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