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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga-Pepperdine key matchup: Mike Mitchell Jr’s distribution has been pleasant surprise for Waves

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 7, 2022

Jan Zidek Jr. and Houston Mallette have been Pepperdine’s top scorers this season, respectively averaging 12.4 and 11.3 points per game, but containing the Waves may be more about corralling the player who’s distributing the ball as opposed to the ones scoring it.

When Chet Holmgren’s reign as the West Coast Conference Freshman of the Week finally ended after a full month, Mallette was the one who interrupted the streak, claiming the award on the heels of a 24-point effort against Alabama State.

Seven days later, freshman point guard Mike Mitchell Jr. ensured the honor stayed in Malibu, California, after scoring 11 points with six assists and three steals in a six-point win over Southeast Missouri.

Zidek’s scoring has been a valuable asset to Pepperdine’s frontcourt, and Mallette’s to the Waves’ backcourt, but on a team with nobody averaging better than 12.4 points and six players at least 8.1 points, Mitchell ’s distribution and durability seem to be two things Lorenzo Romar’s team can’t live without.

The freshman from San Jose, California, is No. 47 nationally and No. 2 in the WCC averaging 4.9 assists, 8.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game.

Among true freshmen in the WCC, nobody has logged more minutes than Mitchell , who’s started and played in all 15 Pepperdine games, recording a team-high 32.0 minutes per game.

A three-star recruit who chose the Waves over San Diego State, Mitchell hit his season-high in assists (eight) twice, against TCU and San Jose State, and scored a season-high 15 points against Fresno State. He’s also been Pepperdine’s top 3-point threat, connecting on 24 of 62 (38.7%) from distance.

One of the WCC’s most experienced point guards, Andrew Nembhard, is likely to get the assignment on one of its youngest when Pepperdine and Gonzaga tangle. Like Mitchell , Nembhard is also averaging more than 30 minutes per game and sits just behind the Pepperdine freshman at 4.5 apg.

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