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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win at Pepperdine

The frontcourt flexed its collective muscle.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Pepperdine Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Zags always have a good time in Malibu. What’s not to love about a scenic drive up the coast to a small, slippery gym against a team that doesn’t have the ability to offer any kind of resistance. Here’s what I took away from the first leg of Gonzaga’s Southern California swing:

  1. It was a very impressive effort from Gonzaga’s frontcourt as it produced the Bulldogs first 22 points of the game and simply overwhelmed Pepperdine’s interior players. While the guards struggled, they at least pounded the ball inside which is where Gonzaga has found a lot of success this season (60.9% 2pt FGA is good for second best in the nation).
  2. Killian Tillie had his best game of the season shooting the ball, as he went a perfect 3-3 from the arc (9-10 overall). He hasn’t shot the ball that well from distance this season (34% going into the game), so it was nice to see him find a nice rhythm and take advantage of Pepperdine’s failure to extend out to the line and guard him. Hopefully this gets him a groove for the rest of conference play.
  3. The Zags got off to a really rough start that was highlighted (lowlighted?) by Tillie inbounding the ball to Silas Melson, only Melson was facing the other direction and running down the floor. The ball hit Melson in the back and resulted in a turnover. Considering the fact that Melson and Perkins have 217 combined games (108 combined starts) between them, it was not a banner night for the veteran duo who had offensive ratings of 63 and 78 respectively, and were outplayed by Pepperdine’s backcourt that included a true freshman point guard (Colbey Ross) and a transfer (Eric Cooper) playing his 6th game of the season.
  4. While Pepperdine was missing sophomore wing Kameron Edwards who has missed the last 6 games with a concussion, and its backcourt played relatively well (notwithstanding 6 turnovers from Ross), the Waves overall are terrible. Ross and Edwards are solid pieces but Marty Wilson needs to find/develop some players if he wants to avoid being in the WCC cellar for the next few seasons. The Waves are small, play slow, and shoot the ball very poorly from 3. That’s not a good formula for success.
  5. I liked seeing Larsen getting on the floor early (after the first media timeout). I’ve mentioned a few times that he’s earned himself a bigger role in the rotation, and he seems to be past the knee injury now. He immediately made his presence felt with a good seal on a high entry pass that he turned into an easy dunk, then followed it up with a skilled up-and-under basket on the next possession. He allows Gonzaga to run its bread and butter sets as a true back-to-the-basket center, and serves as a good anchor for each of Williams, Tillie, and Hachimura.
  6. Corey Kispert continues to build on his minutes as he nears a full return to health. He is five weeks post ankle sprain and is moving noticeably better on the floor. The question now is whether Few restores him to the starting lineup and bumps Norvell back into the 6th man role off the bench. Kispert also highlighted his strength on a fastbreak layup late in the first half when Colbey Ross severely underestimated what it would take to prevent Kispert from finishing. Ross went with the soft wrap-up foul, but Kispert blew right through it and easily finished as if Ross wasn’t even there. Both are true freshmen, but the difference in physicality was stark.
  7. When Zach Norvell gets on one of his cold spells it looks like he starts pushing his shot instead of shooting it. By that I mean that the ball looks to be coming out of his palm more than off his fingertips.
  8. There was a spell early in the second half when the Zags were blitzing Pepperdine’s screens but were getting beat on the secondary action cause of slow recovery. In a game like this, it’s not that big of a deal but it is something to watch for against better teams.
  9. Rui was having his way with Pepperdine’s forwards, and destroyed them on the offensive boards. He’s not going to find many players in the WCC who can match his athleticism. His second jump was a great example of the athletic disparity last night. Rui missed an initial post shot but was able to immediately gather and jump again to collect the offensive rebound and convert a tip-in before anyone else could even react to the first shot. How do you stop that if you’re a WCC coach?
  10. Craig Robinson and Chauncey Billups were in the house as casual spectators. You never know who you’ll see at Pepperdine home games.