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Missed free throws nearly bury Bulldogs as they escape with win over Pepperdine


James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs rolled into the Firestone Fieldhouse late thanks to Los Angeles traffic and they barely rolled out win a win as the Pepperdine Waves almost pulled the upset, 78-76, on Thursday.

The start time to the game was delayed by a half hour because the team bus was stuck in that common occurrence known as L.A. traffic. From the start of the game, it looked like the lack of prep time wasn't an issue. Gonzaga hammered it down low repeatedly to Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis, and the Bulldogs looked well on their way to an easy victory.

Then the second half happened. Pepperdine readjusted and made a run full of good shots and a few improbably ones. The Waves opened the second half with six consecutive field goals and made this game way closer than it ever should have been.

Of course, I have to point out the reason it was so close is because Gonzaga was another word worse than abysmal from the charity stripe. The Bulldogs overall had a solid offensive game. They shot 57 percent form the floor and were 6-of-12 from beyond the arc. All of that was virtually negated as none of the Bulldogs could hit a free throw to save their lives. Gonzaga shot 14-of-33 from the free throw line as a squad.

Byron Wesley was the biggest goat from the line, where he was a terrible 3-of-10. The free throw issues were practically an epidemic. Even Kevin Pangos, who shoots 88 percent from the free-throw line, missed consecutive free throws at crucial points. Realistically, although the score was super close, the problems at the free throw line were the big difference. Gonzaga was the better team in a game that never should have been this close.

When things were faltering offensively for the Zags, Wiltjer was there to step up. The forward finished with a game-high 24 points and scored 10 consecutive for Gonzaga at one point. He was accompanied by one of the best games from Domantas Sabonis of this year. Sabonis finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds and was a perfect 9-for-9 from the floor (although he also went 0-for-2 from the free throw line).

All in all, Gonzaga escaped with a victory that easily could have been a loss. But, like stated before, this game shouldn't have been that close. So far this season, there have only been 12 teams to attempt 30 free throws and hit less than 50 percent of them. To put it into even more freakish context, only two teams have attempted 30 free throws and hit less than Gonzaga did this season.

It was tough to watch, but it also was an anomaly for a team that normally shoots 73 percent from the free throw line. Take a deep breath and just be happy that a road game against LMU is the next one on the docket.