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Gonzaga survives a feisty Pepperdine squad, 97-88

What is defense as a concept anyway?

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Pepperdine Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

It was a battle of the stars between Gonzaga and Pepperdine on Saturday afternoon, but in the end, the Zags’ had just enough gas to push past an athletic Waves squad, 97-88.

If you came looking for an improved Gonzaga defense this game well, I’m sorry you were disappointed. For the rest of us that love nothing more than unrelenting BUCKETS, the Zags and the Waves did not disappoint. With plenty of NBA scouts in the stands (according to a random broadcast shot of people sitting in a couple of rows), Pepperdine was able to keep it close for much of the first half thanks to the combined talents of Houston Mallette and Maxwell Lewis.

The Waves averaged 1.273 points per possession through the first 20 points, shooting 58.3 percent from the floor and racking up the free points at the charity stripe, hitting 10-for-12.

When it looked like the Mallette show at the beginning, Julian Strawther had other things to say. Strawther had 19 first half points off of a torrid 8-for-11 shooting. His offense singlehandedly kept the Zags in the game until Drew Timme could get up and humming at his normal pace. Timme went into halftime with 12 points.

Eventually, the Zags started to get a few stops. They held the Waves without a field goal for the final three minutes of the half to take a 50-42 lead after 20 minutes.

A team like Pepperdine, however, with its legitimate NBA talent in Mallette, Lewis, and Jevon Porter, is uniquely poised to exploit Gonzaga’s defensive weaknesses. Timme came out of the second half like a man possessed, but with much of the rest of the offense not really firing on any consistent cylinder, the Waves trio was able to pull Pepperdine into literal striking distance, closing the gap to just one point with a shade under four minutes remaining.

Luckily for Gonzaga, Rasir Bolton was there to yet again pour some clutch points in the late game scenario. Bolton hit a wide-open three to stretch the lead to four, and combined with Strawther to score 14 of Gonzaga’s final 16 points to close out the game.

Survive and win, and that is exactly what Gonzaga did. Timme finished with a huge 34 points off 15-for-20 shooting, playing a good chunk of the second half with three fouls, but still managing to clean up on the offensive glass and generate some second-chance points. Hunter Sallis looked great on the defensive end, as always, picking up some key minutes in crunch time as well.

The big hero was probably Strawther, who finished the game 28 points. The Gonzaga winger is on an absolute tear as of late, with 30 points against LMU and 26 against BYU. If Strawther is able to stay consistent, it adds a much needed layer of difficulty to defending the Gonzaga offensive machine.

And let’s give some credit where it is due to the Waves. Between Porter, Lewis, and Mallette, they are probably the second-most entertaining team in the WCC, and plenty of NBA scouts were in attendance to witness that. The trio combined for 62 of Pepperdine’s 88 points. At the end of the day, that was the difference. The Zags’ role players had just enough mojo to pull off the win.