It wasn’t the prettiest of efforts, but such is the standard that the Gonzaga Bulldogs have set for themselves this season that a 95-70 win over the Pepperdine Waves felt like a subpar outing for the No. 1 team in the country.
The Big Four of Gonzaga produced 80 of the team’s 95 points. Corey Kispert led all scorers with 23 points and 8 rebounds, while Drew Timme (20 points, 7 rebounds), Joel Ayayi (19 points, 6 rebounds, 4 steals), and Jalen Suggs (18 points) each took over at different points in the evening to help the Zags put this game away.
Gonzaga didn’t look like the nation’s best offense in the opening minutes of the game. Based on the action on the floor, it looked like Gonzaga, and not Pepperdine, was the team playing its first game in 23 days.
The beautiful free-flowing basketball that we’ve seen throughout this season was a little slow to get out of the gates. Fortunately for Gonzaga, the Waves failed to capitalize on their host’s slow start as they mustered only three made field goals through the first seven minutes of the game.
Whether it was Pepperdine’s defense (it wasn’t) or the Zags just beating themselves with some gross basketball (it was), there wasn’t a lot to like during the opening half. Both teams grinded out a lot of disjointed offensive possessions that hurt my eyes. That’s not unusual for the Waves, who suffered back to back ugly losses before their COVID-pause, but it’s jarring to see it from Gonzaga simply because of how infrequently it happens.
Even with Pepperdine’s Colbey Ross (9 points on 2-10 FG, 7 assists, and 6 turnovers) on the bench for several minutes to close out the first half thanks to foul trouble, Gonzaga couldn’t muster a run to gain any meaningful separation. Outside of Ayayi (14 points, 4 steals), it was a first half to forget from Gonzaga as they took a 43-39 lead into the half with the margin narrowed thanks to a buzzer beating three from Pepperdine’s Darryl Polk Jr. who was inexplicably allowed to run freely up the floor in the closing seconds to get up a clean shot.
The start of the second half featured some promising possessions from the Zags as they flashed the execution and finishing expected of the nation’s top team. Even so, Gonzaga couldn’t quite blow the game open and soon it was back to the puzzling play that marked the first half—nice plays here and there sprinkled with errant passes and low percentage shots to kill momentum.
Despite what felt like the inevitable, the Waves held off on caving for much longer than expected and continued to exert pressure on the Zags to keep the game tight.
Part of Pepperdine’s success in keeping pace with Gonzaga was its success in bottling up Timme through the first 25 minutes. The sophomore center was in the midst of his worst game of the season before converting back-to-back and-1 circus shots in the second half that jump started his game and his team.
Kispert was a monster as well during the second half, showcasing the shooting prowess from the arc that has elevated him into the elite of college basketball and into NBA Draft lottery consideration.
The final scoreline will make it look like it was another routine victory for the Zags, but the Waves fought valiantly. Though the dam that is Gonzaga’s offense eventually broke on them, they looked like the team at the beginning of the season that could be the third best team in the conference.
For the Zags, the coaching staff will have plenty of film from this effort to highlight during practices over the coming weeks to keep them sharp while building towards tournament play.