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Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga’s frontcourt dominant as Bulldogs blow out Pepperdine 117-83 in WCC opener

Early in the first half, with No. 4 Gonzaga already off to a blistering start against Pepperdine, Chet Holmgren deflected a pass near halfcourt, picked up the ball and took a few Holmgren-sized steps toward the hoop before jamming home as he drew arm contact from Carson Basham, who could do nothing but get a hand on the freshman’s arm as he rose up to dunk.

Holmgren cashed in at the free throw line and extended Gonzaga’s lead to 15 points – an advantage that only stopped growing when the final buzzer at McCarthey Athletic Center forced it to.

Consider it the West Coast Conference’s formal introduction to Holmgren and another deep, potent Gonzaga team that reaffirmed Saturday night why it should be the heavy favorite to win its 28th conference crown.

The Bulldogs came out of a three-game COVID-19 pause looking as sharp as they were when they last played Dec. 28. Six players scored in double figures as Gonzaga rolled past Pepperdine 117-83, extending its national-record home win streak to 60 games.

Walk-on Matthew Lang hit GU’s 10th 3-pointer inside the closing minute to ensure the sellout McCarthey crowd would leave the building with free tacos – the only bit of drama the game’s final 5 minutes provided – and the shot also gave the Bulldogs their highest point total in a WCC game since Feb. 12, 1994, when they scored 120 against Loyola Marymount, and their highest total in any game since scoring 120 against Idaho State on Nov. 6, 2018.

“I thought we were crisp, which you worry a bit about that – timing being off and being sloppy,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Especially I thought that first group, with both their segments they were in there, I thought were terrific on defense and played with great purpose on offense and doing the kind of things we want them to do.”

Gonzaga’s frontcourt came into the new year looking as dominant as it was when the Bulldogs closed out 2021 against North Alabama. Holmgren (18 points), Anton Watson (19) and Drew Timme (18) combined to score 55 points on 20-of-33 (60%) shooting from the field. The three also supplied 20 rebounds, six blocks and four blocked shots.

Holmgren’s sequence in the first half was one of three or four highlight reel-worthy plays from the five-star freshman, who finished an alley-oop from Andrew Nembhard, knocked down an elbow 3-pointer and rejected two Pepperdine shots. Holmgren also had eight rebounds and two steals.

“I like to see that from him, man,” Timme said. “He’s done it practice before. He might have stole it from me a couple times and done that. I was glad to see him do it to someone else.”

Any notion that Gonzaga would show traces of rust after an 11-day layoff seemed to be squashed inside the game’s opening minutes. It took just 13 seconds for Timme to score the game’s first basket. Julian Strawther recorded four points on GU’s next possession, converting a fast-break layup while being fouled, missing the free throw and picking up an offensive rebound just seconds later to score again.

The Zags scored 28 points on 18 Pepperdine turnovers, applying an aggressive press much of the first half, and finished with 68 points in the paint. Gonzaga finished 45 of 83 (56%) from the field and made 10 of 25 (40%) from the 3-point line. The Bulldogs pushed their lead to a game-high 40 points with 14:11 left in the second half.

“Just getting the ball inside, they played 1-on-1 for the most part throughout the game, so coach wanted us to go inside, take advantage of that,” Holmgren said. “We did that pretty well.”

Hunter Sallis came off Gonzaga’s bench to score 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field while Strawther and Rasir Bolton each added 12 points. Starting point guard Andrew Nembhard had only three points but played a big role in a big night for Gonzaga’s offense, dishing out eight assists and grabbing six rebounds.

“I think Andrew needs to get more selfish, that would be my thing,” Few said. “We’ve been on him, but he’s such a great facilitator, he’s just such a gifted passer.

“Some of the passes he made, you go back and watch them and there aren’t many guys in the country that can make those kind of passes.”

Pepperdine’s Houston Mallette scored a game-high 21 points. Jan Zidek and Mike Mitchell Jr. each scored 16 for the Waves, who lost their 42nd consecutive game to the Zags.