Byron Wesley scored five and eight points in the first two meetings between Pepperdine and Gonzaga this season. Tonight he exploded for a season high 25 points and led the Zags on a second half charge to blow out the Waves.
"That was easily the most fun we've had this year," Wesley said after the game.
The fun isn't over, as the Zags have now advanced to their 18th straight West Coast Conference Tournament championship. Think about that for a moment. If this streak was a person it would be getting ready to graduate high school and head to college, maybe even enroll at Gonzaga.
In their last meeting, at the Kennel on Valentine's Day, the Zags ran a press that flustered the Waves. Tonight the Zags opened their first defensive possession with a press and it more than flustered the Waves, they couldn't even get the ball up the court and were called for a ten second violation.
Marty Wilson's slow-tempo strategy was attacked with that three-quarter court press repeatedly throughout the half. Initially it seemed to be working as the Zags were on pace for 100 points and 80 possessions at the first media timeout. Or, to put it a less awesome sounding way, they had over 10 points and eight possessions through four minutes.
Mental mistakes, all too common for the Zags over the past month or so, were present again tonight. Refreshingly a lack of energy was not.
Przemek Karnowski was called for a three second violation early in the game. Bracketing the under-12 TV timeout the Zags were called for six fouls over three minutes. That stretch sapped the energy out of the crowd and allowed the Waves to make it a ballgame.
Before that foul-fest Gonzaga looked ready and able to blow the game open early. After, Pepperdine had taken a one point lead and would prevent the Zags from extending beyond two possessions.
The first half came to a close with a miniature block party. Angel Nunez stopped a Marley Biyendolo shot, causing a shot clock violation. Biyendolo got back on defense and the point guard blocked his counterpart, Kevin Pangos, as he went up for a lay-in. That kept the Gonzaga lead at just two points, 35-33.
Jeremy Major and the Waves struck first in the second but then the Zags ran off 10 straight points. Back-to-back threes from Kyle Wiltjer, who had just made a lay-up, and Gary Bell Jr. opened up an eight point lead. Coming out of a Pepperdine timeout Byron Wesley picked Stacy Davis' pocket and took the ball all the way to the rack for his second fast break dunk of the night.
10-0 run, 10 point lead.
A Stacy Davis put-back and-one with 16:08 to play temporarily stopped the bleeding. But Byron Wesley is from the L.A. area and seemed to have no problem tearing the team from Malibu apart.
Wesley, who was already having a phenomenal game, took over in the middle of the second half. He scored 10 points in just over five minutes, five of which came just ten seconds apart. The first two, an impressive fast break lay-up. The final three on another impressive lay-up but this time with a foul.
That free throw pushed the lead to 20 with 10:31 to play. Orleans Arena was rocking and the Waves were rattled.
A Kevin Pangos three about five minutes later pushed the lead to 22, the largest of the game. Mark Few began slowly pulling his seniors out of the game at that point, allowing the reserves to run the clock to the buzzer.
Eric McClellan, on one possession, wasn't too interested in running clock. He slammed home a fast-break dunk in the final minute in what would prove to be the final points of the game. That's because immediately after that Angel Nunez tried to do the same but blew the dunk.
The Zags have another game set on the schedule but the Waves do not. Still, Marty Wilson isn't ready to put an end to his 18-13 season.
"We’re not giving the end of the year speech because we don’t believe our year is over," Wilson said after the game.
We will learn in the coming days what postseason tournament Pepperdine will be heading to.
For Gonzaga, now 31-2, we know they will face the winner of BYU vs. Portland in the WCC Championship game, Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. PDT on ESPN.