- This game featured a lot of fun individual matchups. Pepperdine’s Maxwell Lewis and Houston Mallette presented worthy challenges for Gonzaga’s defenders, and it was fun to see them matched up against Julian Strawther, Hunter Sallis, Rasir Bolton, Malachi Smith and Anton Watson who each took turns. Per the broadcast, there were approximately 50 NBA scouts present to watch Lewis and Strawther and I’m guessing they liked a lot of what they saw.
- Strawther has always been a confident kid, but his confidence must be at an all-time high right now because he is balling out. He has become incredibly difficult to guard with how balanced his game is right now. He’s attacking the rim with controlled aggression, his handle has tightened up, and his stroke is locked in from the perimeter. The drives he converted in the first half, and his trail pull-up 3 with about five minutes left in the first half highlight just how confident he’s playing right now. He’s really elevated his game over the last month or so.
- Gonzaga’s defense struggled with the athleticism of Pepperdine and had to utilize a lot more traps and hard hedges on ball screens to combat that. It’s a sound strategy to slow down some of the more dangerous Waves, but the problem was that there were a few too many communication breakdowns that resulted in some free runners to the rim for Pepperdine. This team isn’t good enough defensively one through five to have such poor communication.
- That backdoor cut from Sallis late in the first half channeled the spirit of Joel Ayayi. I loved that. Those types of plays can be Sallis’ bread and butter while he continues to fine tune his jumper
- Drew Timme has feasted on Pepperdine this season (69 points combined, nice, in the two games against the Waves). He put on a full footwork clinic in the second half and was masterful in using how his defenders were leaning on him, against them.
- Conversely, the Waves have had Nolan Hickman’s number. His 5 points and 1 turnover in this one represented progress from the zero and four he had, respectively, in the first game earlier in the year, but he has struggled to materially influence the game in both bouts against Pepperdine. Hickman has been taking care of the ball, which I will definitely take, but outside of the road win against Santa Clara he hasn’t had a great go of it in WCC play.
- I generally give Lorenzo Romar a lot of crap for how ill-prepared his teams usually are on the defensive end, but credit where credit is due. Even though the Zags put up 97 points, they had to work hard for them.
- Strawther looked a little hobbled by the ankle injury he picked up early in the second half and Timme was in need of a wingman to help bring this one home. Enter Rasir Bolton. It’s been a bit of an up and down season for him as he hasn’t been set up as well as he was playing alongside Andrew Nembhard last season, but Bolton never shies away from the big moments when Gonzaga needs him to step up. There’s a lot to be said for that.
- Despite the defensive pressure applied by the Waves and the disruptive length of their lineup, the Zags did a really nice job taking care of the ball. That Pepperdine team can clearly score, so it was vital that the Zags didn’t give them any extra possessions or easy buckets.
- Is this the best team Mark Few has ever had? No. But, it is one of the toughest. These guys don’t wilt under pressure and they don’t stop fighting.
10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win over Pepperdine