Gonzaga vs. Pepperdine 2014 game preview: A battle at the the top

USA TODAY Sports

The Bulldogs sit alone atop the WCC standings, and Pepperdine is lurking behind trying to make the leap.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs have had a week to lick their wounds after falling to the Portland Pilots for the first time in a decade. Now, they have a big game against the Pepperdine Waves for the supremacy of the WCC, with tipoff at 7 p.m. PT. There isn't much need to re-hash how disappointing of a loss last Thursday was -- it has been done multiple times on this site alone.

Now, it is time for the Gonzaga Bulldogs to start looking forward, but barely forward. The team needs to be in a one-game at a time mentality until the NCAA Tournament bid is secured -- and that only comes with a win at the WCC Tournament. Anything less is just leaving your hand to fate.

Out of all the teams to get their feet back on track against, Pepperdine is the team to play. Gonzaga owns the nation's active win streak over a conference opponent, having defeated Pepperdine 24 straight times. Pepperdine hasn't beaten Gonzaga since Jan. 18, 2002, way back when Paul Westphal guided the Waves to the NCAA Tournament. They haven't played in March since.

Meet the opponent

Pepperdine Waves (11-7), Kenpom #132, RPI #119

After about eight years varying from terrible to mediocre, Marty Wilson looks like he has finally turned the corner with his team. The Waves got off to a hot start in WCC play and are riding the top thanks to winning their first three games, including one at home against BYU. They came a bit back down to Earth with consecutive losses against San Francisco and BYU, but make no mistake, this is a team that can no longer be looked past.

The Waves get big production from their frontcourt. Sophomore forward Stacy Davis averages 15.5 points and 7.9 rebounds a game and senior forward (and former UCLA player) Brendan Lane chips in 15 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. They have a more than capable freshman point guard in Jeremy Major dolling the dimes out, to the tune of 4.5 assists per game.

Because of their reliance down low, Pepperdine is one of the better shooting teams in the nation, hitting 47 percent of their shots as a team -- good for 49th. What helps their success down low is that a good portion of the team is a threat to make an outside shot. The Waves are hitting 38 percent of their threes as a team, good for 44th in the nation. They have six different players with at least 10 threes this season, and of those six, five of them are shooting better than 40 percent from the three point line.

What to watch out for

For Gonzaga, this game will be a solid litmus test. The Bulldogs need to come out with the energy and fire that was completely lacking in the loss to Portland. It is also the real first road game of the conference. There is always a solid contingent of Zag fans at Portland, that isn't the case in Malibu where the Spokane faithful don't head too often. There were a lot of things that went wrong in Portland, and flat out getting outhustled was one of them. The Zags can't afford another start out of the gates like that.

Despite the power down low coming from Pepperdine, Lane and Davis aren't particularly tall, standing at 6'9 and 6'6 respectively. Like a lot of WCC teams, the Waves have no match for Przemek Karnowski's size and he will need to bully them into submission. Like a lot of undersized forwards, Lane and Davis are both very aggressive on the offensive glass. Dower, Karnowski and anyone taking on the job of guarding the two needs to make sure they box them out. Otherwise, the two will get their second chance points.

Lane, despite his shorter stature, is a very effective shot-blocker. He averages 2.4 blocks per game, which is the best in the WCC. Pangos and the rest of the guards need to recognize who is in front of them when driving to the lane. The Portland Pilots blocked shots whenever they damn well pleased, and nothing gets the opposing crowd into a feeding frenzy like a blocked shot. The key to this game is containing Lane, on both ends of the floor, otherwise it will be a close affair.

I'm done making predictions, because last time I said blah blah blah the Zags have had no troubles against this team they went ahead and lost. Pepperdine is finally good again and Gonzaga needs to treat them with the respect that comes with that. Following the loss to Portland, I don't think that'll be too hard for Few to ram that mentality home.

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