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Gonzaga vs. Pepperdine: Bulldogs begin WCC play

The Zags face what might be a stiff test to open WCC play.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

After a win against the Tennessee Volunteers to close out the non-conference schedule, the Gonzaga Bulldogs host the Pepperdine Waves to open up WCC play. With Gonzaga's up and down season so far, this is probably one of the harder matchups to open up with.

The WCC is in one of its down years, for the most part, but Pepperdine is a team that has done a better job at giving the Zags fits, for whatever reason. This is a good game for the Waves to open up play with. It is winter break, the students won't be in Spokane, and The Kennel won't be as raucous as normal.

Minus Przemek Karnowski and minus consistent guard play, the Zags are pretty much ripe for an upset with every conference game that will take place. This just might be one of those games.

Meet the opponent

Pepperdine Waves, 7-4, KenPom #106

Pepperdine was supposed to come into this season with a dangerous edge about them, since they returned most of their lineup. Things haven't necessarily gone according to plan in the non-conference. Pepperdine has some disappointing losses to Murray State and Drake in the history books, and the team should be looking to make waves in conference play. A win against Gonzaga at home would go a long way in doing that.

The offense of Pepperdine once against goes through senior forward Stacy Davis. Davis' offensive contributions have taken a slight step back in his senior year. His scoring has dropped down to 14.5 points per game, much of that having to do with his shot not falling. Davis is hitting 41.5 percent from the floor, the lowest mark in his college career.

He is hardly a pushover, however. Davis has added a more consistent three-point shot to his arsenal and he can stretch defenses with his ability to play both in the paint as well as stepping out to drain a jumper. Davis has always been a hard-nosed competitor who plays taller than his 6'6 stature suggests, and he works rather hard on the boards.

He is complemented by junior forward Lamond Murray. Murray is averaging 14.4 points per game, a huge step up from last season. If the game starts to get late in the minutes and close, the Zags will need to keep it out of his hands. Murray is a terrific free throw shooter and is shooting 89.3 percent from the charity stripe this season.

The Waves have two capable ball handlers in junior guards Jeremy major and Amadi Udenyi. Both players average over three assists per game and see approximately equal time on the court. Coach Marty Davis has one of his deeper teams that he has ever had with the Waves, usually running an eight-man rotation.

What to watch out for

Prep yourself for an ugly game

Pepperdine isn't too efficient offensively this season. Gonzaga, outside of a few players, isn't that efficient offensively either. This has the all the makings of a real grinder. Both teams are stellar against the outside shot. Gonzaga allows only 27 percent of threes to fall through. Pepperdine is a tad better at defending the three, only allowing opponents to shoot 25.5 percent.

The Waves also have some legitimate three-point threats on their team. Davis is hitting 44.4 percent from beyond the arc this season, and both Major and guard Shawn Olden are capable of hitting an outside shot. Gonzaga needs to make sure that they don't give up an advantage here.

Can the Waves control the Bulldogs' frontcourt?

Realistically, the Waves can't, and don't even watch them try. Even in the narrow loss to Gonzaga last season, the game plan for Marty Davis has been to force the guard to beat Pepperdine. Last season, in Gonzaga's 78-76 win, that was almost the case. Wiltjer finished with 24 points and Sabonis added 18, but not much offense came from anywhere else.

Expect more of the same here, especially because the opponent's game plan for Gonzaga is so easy to identify. Do your best to control Wiltjer and Sabonis, but don't bash your head in watching them score. Instead, make the rest of the team beat you. Pepperdine will do more of the same, and even more pressure will be on that loveable Gonzaga backcourt to figure out how to provide enough offense.

Expect to see more of Eric McClellan in the offense.

EMac has really started to assert himself as the guard to go to while the rest of the backcourt figures out how to operate, and the Zags will need to rely on the senior even more. After averaging 6.8 points in his first seven games, McClellan has turned it up lately, averaging 11.75 points in his last four games. He is as close as Gonzaga can get to a bit of consistent play from the guards, and it isn't a moment too soon.

With McClellan starting to shoulder some of that scoring burden, it opens up Josh Perkins and Silas Melson to start building some of their confidence by just playing good basketball and not being forced to create their own shot.

Game info

Time: 6:00 pm PT

TV: ESPN2

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

Online: WatchESPN