MALIBU, CA — Pepperdine had lost 38 consecutive games against Gonzaga, but after pushing the Bulldogs to their limit on the road in January, the Waves had a shot to snap the skid on Feb. 15.
Pepperdine came out laser-focused and without fear. Naturally, Gonzaga keyed in on Colbey Ross defensively, trying to force half-court traps to get him to cough up the ball. On one possession, Ross caught the ball off a screen, the wing defender immediately came to attempt a double, but Ross split the defenders and hit his signature mid-range floater before more help could arrive. This was a regular occurrence for Ross, who continually did a great job of running the offense and setting up teammates.
Ross and Kameron Edwards helped the Waves trade punches with the Zags for the first 10 minutes of the game. Neither team led by more than three points until the Zags went on an 8-0 run late in the first half. Trailing 28-20 with Ross on the bench with two fouls, it looked like the Zags were going to run away with it. However, the Waves responded with an 8-0 run of their own, ignited by Edwards and Sedrick Altman. The Waves took a late 36-35 lead before a quick Gonzaga spurt sent them into the locker room ahead 40-36.
The Waves and Bulldogs continued to trade punches in the beginning of the second half until Gonzaga took control with a 13-2 run. Corey Kispert hit two threes and guard Joel Ayayi scored five points in the stretch.
The Zags cruised from there to an 89-77 win — their 39th in a row against Pepperdine.
Here are few of the of the key takeaways from Malibu on Saturday night.
Gonzaga showed it could win ugly
Going into the game, Gonzaga had won 18 straight games and 14 came by double digits. The Zags played short-handed on the road after a late scratch from star player Killan Tillie and with two star players in foul trouble early. They were facing a scrappy, talented, and desperate Pepperdine team in front of a sold-out crowd on the road. Pepperdine had a dynamic point guard who was playing well. Yet the Zags never wavered. Eventually, their talent prevailed.
Mark Few thought this road win showed a lot of character from his team.
“We were flustered, had a lot of adversity and a hot guard [Ross] going at us before we were able to get going,” Few said. “It was good for us to face that and solve those things. It’s one of the better wins we’ve had this year with what we dealt with and powered through it. It wasn’t going perfect for long stretches but we found a way. That’s how you have to win in March.”
Pepperdine missed a big opportunity
That feeling of being so close seems all too familiar for Pepperdine fans. The Waves came within one possession in of beating Gonzaga in 2015 and 2016, and even though this game was a double-digit loss, it had a similar feel.
“Gonzaga is too good of a team to make mental mistakes against,” Pepperdine coach Lorenzo Romar said. “We had too many of those and they capitalize on most of them. We didn’t shoot the ball very well tonight. We were able to hold the fort in the first half. Our team has been pretty resilient all year and there were too many times we had to fight back tonight.”
Poor shooting plagued the Waves all night, shooting just 5-25 from behind the arc. Edwards shot 1-7 from three and missed two early open attempts that would have given Pepperdine a significant early lead. Waves’ sharp-shooter Skylar Chavez (39%) went an uncharacteristic 0-4.
Filip Petrusev is a mismatch nightmare
The Waves were overmatched inside and didn’t have an answer for Gonzaga center Filip Petrusev. Tillie’s injury forced Petrusev to play heavy minutes despite dealing with foul trouble. He scored 27 points (on 9-20 shooting) to go with 12 rebounds. Even that stat line doesn’t reveal how dominant he was.
“I knew I was going to have to play more but it was tough to execute all those coverages,” Petrusev said. “I knew they were going to foul me but also I have to hit open layups when I get an angle.”
Sedrick Altman is a future star for Pepperdine
Ross was the main storyline for Pepperdine, but fans got a glimpse of the Waves’ future after watching freshman guard Sedrick Altman make key plays against Gonzaga.
Altman showed no fear being guarded by Ryan Woolridge and Admon Gilder. Altman recorded his third consecutive double-digit scoring night against the Zags and was efficient in doing so. He scored 11 points on 4-5 shooting while holding his own on defense. He also ignited the aforementioned Pepperdine run when Ross was in foul trouble. Altman created a transition opportunity, assisted on an Edwards three and converted a three-point play at the foul line himself.
Colbey Ross showed he is one of the best point guards in the country
Gonzaga has faced its share of great point guards this season in Payton Pritchard (Oregon), Zavier Simpson, (Michigan) Nico Mannion (Arizona) and Quade Green (Washington), to name a few. Out of all those players, Ross is probably the toughest challenge the Zags have faced. The players above combined to average 12.5 points on 29% shooting against the Zags’ defense. Through two games, Ross has shredded the Zags, averaging 23.5 points on 46% shooting. Despite being under-sized and facing numerous defensive coverages, Ross found away to get a bucket, whether it was from hitting a 12-foot floater in traffic, or out-dribbling a double-team to find an open teammate.
“He is such a fabulous player, he has a vast array of shots,” Few said. “He [made] runners going left and right. He can shoot pull-up threes, goes hard in the lane and has nice touch. He has been one of our toughest point guards to guard and prepare for all year.”