The no. 2 Gonzaga Bulldogs continue their quest to remain undefeated in WCC play as they host the Pepperdine Waves on Thursday. As usual, the Bulldogs are hefty 27.5-point favorites.
Pepperdine has lucked out this season by only having to play Gonzaga once. Of course, the Waves aren’t exactly playing well against the rest of the WCC. Pepperdine has lost four of their last five games, dropping them to 5-8 in conference play and 12-15 overall. It’s Lorenzo Romar’s first season back at Pepperdine, where his coaching career began, and he clearly has a lot of work ahead of him.
Meanwhile, Mark Few’s Bulldogs continue to steamroll the WCC. The Zags are 12-0 in conference play, with seven of those 12 wins coming by at least 30 points. However, Gonzaga was actually tied at the half with San Diego in their last game, so it’s possible they’re getting bored and have lost a little focus late in the conference season.
On the Front Foot
While college basketball is typically a guard-oriented game, the Bulldogs are led by the frontcourt tandem of Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke. The two 6’8’’ forwards have more size and strength than most WCC teams can handle. They allow the Zags to establish an inside scoring presence and dominate the boards. Clarke, in particular, hasn’t missed a beat after sitting out last season as a transfer from San Jose State. With him, the Bulldogs have been able to overcome the prolonged absence of Killian Tillie, who is out with an injury.
Of course, the Gonzaga guards deserve a little credit as well. Josh Perkins may be one of the most underrated point guards in the country. He can step up and score when needed, as he chipped in 15 points last time out against San Diego. But he’s also content to be the facilitator, notching 29 assists over his last four games. He’s been a big part of Hachimura and Clarke being so successful this season. It also helps that the Zags have a pair of knockdown shooters in Zach Norvell and Corey Kispert, who both shoot close to 40% from 3-point range.
Missing in Action
The Waves have been held back at times this season by injuries. Junior forward Kameron Edwards is the most notable player to miss significant time. He missed most of the non-conference season and is now out again with a foot injury. When he’s been able to play, Edwards has been the team’s best rebounder and is averaging close to 17 points per game. His absence will be massive against the likes of Hachimura and Clarke.
Even without Edwards, Pepperdine has a nice backcourt with Colbey Ross and Eric Cooper Jr. Both are great outside shooters and together average around 30 points per game. Most of Pepperdine’s complementary players are also capable outside shooters. However, they rely a lot on Ross and Cooper, and if either has a subpar outing, the Waves have almost no chance of keeping pace with Gonzaga.
No Place Like Home
Gonzaga has had a few competitive games on the road, but they’ve won four of their six conference home games by at least 30 points. Once the Zags get it going on their home court, they don’t stop. That doesn’t bode well for an undermanned Pepperdine team. Bet on Gonzaga covering the 27.5-point spread on Thursday night.