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Gonzaga vs. Pepperdine game preview: Zags face sudden test against Waves

This game was supposed to be an easy win, but Pepperdine's win over BYU makes this a potential trap.

Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

Gonzaga was supposed to win over Pepperdine. The Bulldogs have beaten the Waves 26 consecutive times, with the last loss coming on Jan. 18, 2002. Gonzaga was supposed to turn that into No. 28 with ease.

But then Pepperdine changed the story last week. The Waves went into BYU's home turf and became the third-best team in the WCC. Stacy Davis came off the bench and led the Waves with 23 points as Pepperdine never trailed in the shocking victory.

Not to say that Gonzaga necessarily struggled last week. Gonzaga stomped all over both Santa Clara and San Diego. Opposing coaches and top-25 voters noticed and launched the Bulldogs up to No. 3 in the polls. Now, the Zags have an even bigger target on their backs than normal as they roll through every opposing WCC gym.

Meet the opponent

Pepperdine Waves, 11-5, KenPom #98

On one hand, it is tough to know how legitimate Pepperdine's win over BYU was. Outside of that win, Pepperdine has lost to every opponent of any slight caliber. The rest of the non-conference schedule was peppered with some real cupcakes, including the likes of San Jose State (No. 347), Cal St. Northridge (No. 293), South Alabama (No. 301) and Howard (No. 302). This collectively gave Pepperdine one of the worst non-conference strength of schedules in the nation.

Pepperdine's offense is for the most part young, and in a couple of years it could be really good. But a couple of years isn't now. For the moment, they still have junior forward Stacy Davis. Davis is one of the best in the WCC and leads the team in points (15.7), rebounds (7.7) and blocks (0.9) per game. Davis tends to struggle ever so slightly against Gonzaga, however. In four games against the Bulldogs, he averages 12.5 points, a slight shade under his career average.

The other scoring threat for the Waves is sophomore point guard Jeremy Major. Major hasn't seen much improvement across the board on the offensive end this year, but he is finally making his three-point shots. He averages 42.6 from beyond the arc, but only takes about three three-point attempts per game.

Whatever offensive shortcomings Pepperdine has, the squad makes up for it on defense. Every player seeing meaningful minutes on the Waves has a defensive rating under 100, meaning they are all above average defenders. Davis is one of the better defenders in the WCC. Despite standing at 6'6, he plays a lot larger than his height. The biggest kicker for Pepperdine, and how BYU found out the hard way, is that the Waves essentially boast the best three-point defense in the nation. Opponents hit just 23.7 percent of their threes. So if you are wondering why that Ken Pomeroy ranking seems so high -- there is your reason. According to Pomeroy, Pepperdine's defense ranks No. 59.

The four factors

Gonzaga Pepperdine
eFG% 58.1 (4) 49.4 (137)
TO% 16.3 (26) 19.1 (137)
OR% 37.1 (25) 27.2 (291)
FTR 35.0 (227) 37.5 (160)
Win index 83 17

What to watch out for

Who wins the three point battle?

Something has to give. The Bulldogs are one of the nation's better three-point shooting teams and no one stops it better than the Waves. Gonzaga averages 18 three-point attempts per game, and hits 39.9 percent of those -- meaning on average the Bulldogs muster 21 points from beyond the arc per game. If the Waves defense holds Gonzaga to what it statistically does, Gonzaga will score just 12 points from beyond the arc in the game. But, of course, statistics don't work like that. I'll bet more on the Waves stopping the outside shot in this one. Their defense has been that consistent over the course of the season.

Gonzaga is going to go inside.

The Zags can't completely abandon the outside shot, obviously. The threat of Gary Bell or Kevin Pangos hitting those threes is what helps open up the inside for Gonzaga's bigs. Pepperdine is a very short team. Center Jett Raines stands at 6'7 and Davis is just 6'6. Gonzaga is going to have a big height advantage across the board and it would be in their most prudent interest to abuse that advantage.

Gonzaga will pressure Pepperdine's guards.

Freshman guard Shawn Olden and Major don't have the cleanest of hands and each averages a couple of turnovers a game. Each player is prone to some ugly ball handling games. Major has turned the ball over four times or more four times this season, peaking with six turnovers against Iowa. Olden turned the ball over five times against LMU. Look for Gary Bell and Byron Wesley to play some aggressive defense on the pair.

Let Stacy Davis score and force the rest of the team to step up.

Over the past two seasons, few players in the WCC have been as consistent as Davis has. After Davis, it is a steep drop off in offensive innovation for Pepperdine. If Davis puts up 20-plus points on Gonzaga, it isn't that big of a deal. He dropped 26 on Arizona State earlier this year. Davis can't put up enough offense to carry the entire team, and especially considering he'll be going against Gonzaga's front court, his points are going to be hard earned. The Bulldogs just need to stay the course and play smart defense on Davis without completely opening up the floor to open shots by the rest of the team.

Game info

Time: 7:30 p.m. PT

TV: KHQ/ROOT Sports

Online: TheW.tv

Radio: AM 1510 KGA (Spokane), AM 880 KIXI (Seattle), AM 1360 KUIK (Portland)