NCAA News Wire

No. 3 Gonzaga squeaks past Pepperdine

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MALIBU, Calif. — Gonzaga used a decided and sometimes overwhelming height advantage to overcome its own poor foul shooting Thursday.

Thanks in part to effective shooting from the floor, the third-ranked Bulldogs outlasted Pepperdine 78-76 Thursday in a West Coast Conference game at Firestone Fieldhouse.

Gonzaga, starting a front line of 7-foot center Przemek Karnowski, 6-foot-10 forward Kyle Wiltjer and 6-foot-10 forward Domantas Sabonis, towered over the Waves whose tallest starter, forward Jett Raines, was 6-foot-7. Gonzaga used that advantage to outrebound the Waves by a slim 34-29 margin.

The real advantage came in scoring, as those three players combined for 49 points with Wiltjer’s 24 leading Gonzaga (17-1, 6-0).

“We knew size would be a factor,” Pepperdine coach Marty Wilson said. “Their guys could see over our guys, but we didn’t defend well enough. They shot 56 percent. You just can’t allow that.”

The Bulldogs needed all of the scoring as Pepperdine, which trailed by as much as 11 in the first half, kept the game close throughout the second, cutting the lead to one several times.

Aiding the Waves was Gonzaga’s abysmal free-throw shooting. Usually reliable from the line — the Bulldogs came into the game shooting 73 percent — Gonzaga made just 14 of 33 (42 percent).

“In a situation like that, there is nothing you can do,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “You can’t tell them, ‘Hey, go make them.’ I know some people might do that, but I don’t think that works.”

One of the things fueling Pepperdine was a raucous, sellout crowd.

“I think 100 percent the crowd got them going, and sure helped out, too,” said Gonzaga guard Kevin Pangos, who made just one of four 3-point attempts and missed two of four free throws.

After reserve forward Stacy Davis completed a three-point play to cut Gonzaga’s lead to 77-75, Wiltjer was fouled but could only make one for a 78-75 lead giving Pepperdine a chance to tie.

Waves guard Jeremy Major was intentionally fouled with 1.9 seconds left, made the first and intentionally missed the second but the rebound was grabbed by Pangos, who held on to the ball until the final buzzer sounded.

In the first half, Gonzaga took advantage of its height as it outrebounded the Waves 18-12 and blocked four shots.

“It reminded me of playing in AAU against guys older than you,” Davis said. “But we have a team that isn’t intimidated. We figure they’ve got five guys, we’ve got five guys.”

Unfortunately for Pepperdine, the Bulldogs were just as dangerous away from the basket.

The Waves came into the game ranked first in the nation in three-point field percentage defense with opponents making just 23.7 percent of their attempts. Gonzaga shot 66 percent (4 of 6) from behind the arc.

Pepperdine stayed relatively close due to Gonzaga’s woeful 4-of-13 showing from the foul line. That was largely responsible for allowing Pepperdine, which trailed 24-13 midway through the half, to hang around and get the deficit to 40-31, by halftime.

NOTES: Thursday’s game was delayed a half-hour because Gonzaga’s team bus was caught in a backup on the Pacific Coast Highway. A fallen utility pole forced three lanes into one and kept the Bulldogs from arriving at Firestone Fieldstone until about 7 p.m. PT for a scheduled 7:30 p.m. start. The game eventually tipped off at 8:03. … The game featured a couple of sons of former NBA players: Pepperdine’s Lamond Murray Jr.’s father, Lamond Murray, played in the NBA from 1994 to 2006; Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis is the son of Lithuania’s Arvydas Sabonis, a Hall of Famer who played eight seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers and is arguably one of the greatest European players ever.