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Gonzaga vs. Pepperdine: Game Preview

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Lorenzo Romar is back in town.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Portland Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs host the Pepperdine Waves on Saturday in Spokane for the first WCC game at home in 2020.

Gonzaga opened conference play at Portland on Thursday, putting together one of their worst first halves of the season and needing a big second half boost to put the Pilots away, 85-72.

Pepperdine opened WCC play with a close loss to the Pacific Tigers at home, 59-56.

Meet the opponent

Pepperdine Waves, 7-8, KenPom #175

The Waves are led by junior guard Colbey Ross, who already is the school’s all-time leader in assists. This year, he is averaging 19.5 points and 7.2 assists per game, and is a player who has largely flourished quite well under Lorenzo Romar’s increased offensive pace. He is complimented by the Edwards brothers in the post. Senior Kameron Edwards is averaging 17.1 points and 6.6 rebounds, and his younger brother Kessler is averaging 14.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.

They are a potent trio, and that is what makes Pepperdine one of the more dangerous teams in the WCC. The Waves have played Arizona, Providence, and USC all incredibly tightly. However, they haven’t been able to pull off the big upset once yet this season.

Much of that has to do with the defense, which is rather wretched. The Waves are ranked No. 296 by KenPom, and opponents have an eFG% of 53.5 (including shooting a staggering 40 percent from three). Gonzaga, with the top-ranked offense in the nation, should be able to feast tomorrow.

What to watch out for

Can the defense put it together for 40 minutes?

One way the Waves could easily pull off the upset is if Gonzaga plays like it did in the first half against Portland. Overall, Gonzaga’s defense has been a question mark, and the Zags overall defensive ranking plummeted after that game, all the way down to No. 63 by KenPom (the last team with to finish with that low of a ranking was the 2009-10 squad). Pepperdine has a top 100 offense, and between the Edwards bros and Ross, they have some really good scorers on the court at all times. Gonzaga needs a better effort on the defensive end.

Anton Watson’s shoulder.

Watson has dealt with shoulder issues all season, and now it seems it is a will we/won’t we hear from Mark Few post game about whether or not it popped out again. The issue with Few’s tight eight-man rotation is that it leaves little room for injury. Martynas Arlauskas has looked pretty decent in spot minutes to fill in for Watson, and with the way that past few weeks have been going for Watson, it is starting to seem more of a matter of when, rather if, he gets shut down at some point. His shoulder has been bothering him since the Battle 4 Atlantis, and if the two options for recovery are to either shut him down for strengthening, or surgery, both take time.

Don’t let this game come down to free throws.

Gonzaga left 12 points at the free throw line against Portland today, helping establish this season’s new normal of the most frustrating stat line ever: a team free throw percentage of 65.5, good for No. 297 in the nation. Pepperdine, on the other hand, is a dream. They are the top free throw shooting team in the nation, collectively shooting 84.6 percent. Sigh.