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Gonzaga vs. Pepperdine game preview: First road game of the conference

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Can the Zags do better than their last game?

NCAA Basketball: Santa Clara at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs are off to the sunny hills of Malibu, California to take on the Pepperdine Waves in the Zags first road game of the conference on Thursday, at 8:00 pm PT.

The Zags are coming off their best overall play of the season in a 101-52 win over Santa Clara on Saturday. Gonzaga scored an astounding 1.49 points per possession, with Silas Melson leading the charge with 19 points. Seven Gonzaga players scored in double-digits in the contest.

Things have been going a bit rough for Pepperdine, who have been blasted by injuries this season. The Waves have lost five-straight, and eight of their last nine. It won’t get any easier in the near future. Three of the Waves next four games are against Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and BYU.

Meet the opponent

Pepperdine Waves, 3-11, KenPom #291

The Waves are really bad this year, and we can get into all the reasons rather quickly. First and foremost, it starts with the defense, of which Pepperdine is woefully overmatched. Pepperdine is ranked No. 326 in the nation, and they are terrible across the board in all the metrics that lead to that number. Teams shoot the ball well against Pepperdine. Pepperdine is a poor defensive rebounding team, and they don’t force many turnovers on defense.

That is the large part of why Pepperdine owns just three wins on the season. Only two of those wins are against D-I schools, and the consistent measuring stick in both of those wins was an advantage at the free throw line. Pepperdine gets to the line pretty often (nearly 21 percent of their points come from the line, as opposed to Gonzaga at 17.9). Interestingly enough, Pepperdine, as a team, shoots just 69.3 percent from the line, so they leave a lot of points on the table.

The Waves are led by freshman guard Colbey Ross, who scores 14.3 points per game. Technically, the leading scorer is sophomore forward Kameron Edwards, but he has missed the past five games with a concussion, and it is unclear if he will suit up for the game.

What to watch out for

Focus on the two-point defense.

Pepperdine is a horrible three-point shooting team. They are ranked No. 327 in overall percentage and only 20 percent of their total points come from long range. Sort of like San Diego State, it might be a bit unnerving if they hit early threes, but the regression to the mean will kick in eventually. Pepperdine shouldn’t make this a problem, because they rarely take three-pointers. All of this means the Zags need to pay attention to two-pointers. Pepperdine likes to draw a lot of contact, and the Zags can get a bit lackadaisical in that realm occasionally.

Maybe get Johnathan Williams jump started a bit.

We can give Williams a pass for Saturday’s result, considering the game was already finished before it started. However, Williams has been a bit quiet on the offensive end in the past two games, where he has scored six points in total. Part of the issue is the offense just isn’t getting the ball to him. Against Pacific, Williams took a total of five shots. Against Santa Clara, he took just two. Williams has scored in less than double digits five times this season, and each time, he has taken five or less two point attempts. Williams is the best player on the team, and he needs the ball fed to him to keep him sharp.