Sunday, January 29, 2017

No. 3 Gonzaga 96, Pepperdine 49: Bulldogs tie a school record with their 22nd straight win

                                                   Photo Credit: Gonzaga Athletics

By: Devin Larkins
Twitter: @MotownApe

MALIBU – In front of a sold out crowd at Firestone Fieldhouse, everyone with high expectations of watching two teams face off in a West Coast Conference matchup on Saturday night. The No. 3 Gonzaga Bulldogs (22-0, 10-0 WCC) entered the game looking to keep their season long winning streak alive against the Pepperdine Waves (6-16, 2-8) and did so in a 96-49 route.

Despite the win and being projected to be the new top-ranked team in Monday's Associated Press Top 25, Gonzaga coach Mark Few sees the bigger picture with a team-tying 22-game winning streak.

“The [rankings] are not important to me," Few said. “They know they can’t control that stuff. It is certainly nice to be recognized, but is out of our control. We’re just going to control what we can control. We’re more concerned with being number one at the end of the year.”

Gonzaga began the game by going to the post every and often. Przemek Karnowski threw down two dunks within the first three offensive possessions for the Bulldogs. Nolan Taylor of Pepperdine found himself outmatched standing only 6’7” picking up an early foul 19 seconds in to the game.

The paint presence was not just from the big men but also from slashing guard play by Nigel Williams-Gross, who finished the game with 12 points, six rebounds and a game-high eight assists. Gonzaga's defense was stingy as they held Pepperdine to a paltry 28 percent shooting in the first half.

Pepperdine made a substitution adding sophomore Center Ryan Keenan to the game for his size and length; adding 3 inches’ length to Taylor. This adjustment did not slow down the Bulldogs who finished the first half with 30 points in the paint.

WCC leading scorer Lamond Murray Jr. only gave his Waves team four points of offensive support. The lack of offense was not solely on the shoulders of Murray. The team went on a 3:56 scoring drought to start the game; then another 2:06 without a made field until Keenan dropped in a layup with 13:43 left in the half.

Despite Gonzaga's 43-21 lead at the half, Pepperdine showed a bit of spark in the second half. They switched from man to man to a 2-3 zone coverage closing some of those defensive gaps which were open in the first. 

Murray played with more energy early in the second knocking down two highly contested shots on back-to-back plays and grabbing a couple of rebounds. 

“I took it to myself to try to be more aggressive and come out stronger," Murray said. I felt bad for myself for being sick (the last few days). I said forget that, come out and try to play the best ball I can play right now.”

This was countered by Zags who began to play a high-low offense, letting the star of the game Karnowski run the offense through him at moments. Karnowski led all scorers with 16 for the game. 

Whenever the Waves began to get any offensive rhythm it was quickly block (literally) by the Bulldogs" long and athletic players. Players like Johnathan Williams made three rim protecting blocked shots for the Bulldogs; the team finished with a punishing eight blocks.

Gonzaga kept the pressure and heat-on, forcing five turnovers and scoring 58 second half points to finish the game with a 47-point victory over the Waves. 

The Bulldogs head to Provo, Utah to face a tough BYU Cougars team who is 7-3 in conference play on Feb. 2, while The Waves head up the Bay to take on the San Francisco Dons who are 5-5 in the WCC.