It is easy to think that the Pepperdine Waves have been the kryptonite of the Gonzaga Bulldogs this season. Gonzaga has won both games, but in the first one they only won by two points. In the second one, Pepperdine was tied at half before eventually succumbing in the loss.
But it is important to look at the finer details of both victories. Pepperdine is known for a couple quality players in Stacy Davis and Jett Raines. After that, it is hard-nosed defense. For the most part, that hard-nosed defense has only showed its head in one game this season.
If you look at the box score of the first game on Jan. 15, the story tells you that Pepperdine outscored the Zags, 45-38, in the second half to almost pull out with a win. What it will also tell you is that Gonzaga was beyond atrocious from the line, and shot just 14-of-33 from the charity stripe. Gonzaga missed ten free throws alone in the second half as an epidemic of ineptitude swept the entire team. Even Mr. Dependable, Kevin Pangos, missed two consecutive free throws late in the game.
Other than that huge, glaring, black hole in the statsheet, the Gonzaga offense was rolling in that game. The Zags had an offensive efficiency as a team of 114.7. They shot 56.9 percent from the floor, hit 50 percent of their threes and, except for Prezmek Karnowski, did a great job of not turning the ball over.
The Zags, as a team, are middling at the free throw line. They shoot 70 percent, which is good for around the middle of all teams in college hoops. If Gonzaga hit 70 percent of their free throws that night, a two-point win turns into an 11-point win.
Then there is the second game, the Hyde of the Jekyl. In this game, the Pepperdine defense shined brightly. Gonzaga was held to 41.7 percent from the floor and 27.8 percent from beyond the arc. Those were two of the lower marks for this high profile offense over the course of the entire season. Pepperdine ground that pace down to a halt. In the first game, each team had 67.6 possessions. In the second game, the pace dropped to 57.5. Pepperdine forced Gonzaga to play its game.
And the thing is, Gonzaga won the game. Sure, the Bulldogs didn't do so hot on offense, but the unsung hero of this Gonzaga squad is its defense. Gonzaga is ranked No. 20 in defensive efficiency by Ken Pomeroy, and this game is a good example of why. Pepperdine missed all 10 of its three point attempts. They only made it to the line seven times total in the game. Karnowski and Gary Bell did nothing offensively but completely made up for it with their defensive effort.
With that, in some ways, Pepperdine almost brings out the best in us. It is important for the Bulldogs to get a game that'll have a completely different feel then the hypothetical shootout with BYU that might take place in the WCC Tournament Finals. It is also important for the Bulldogs to potentially face a bit of adversity. Kyle Wiltjer, as of now, is a game time decision. Realistically, despite Josh Perkin's broken face, the Bulldogs have been pretty lucky on the injury front this season. There have been a few cases of the flu here and there, but most every player has been able to suit up for most every game.
Each game, Pepperdine threw its best effort forward and each game they only came sort of close. Let's hope, for our collective sanity, that Gonzaga puts both feet forward this time.