Strong rebounding has helped get Gonzaga back into the Top 25. It’s also been largely responsible for the Bulldogs’ seven-year run of dominance against Pepperdine.
In the poll for the first time in three weeks, the 23rd-ranked Bulldogs look to win their 15th straight game against the Waves when the West Coast Conference foes meet Thursday night.
A streak of poor play in the paint was partially to blame for Gonzaga (12-4, 3-0) losing three straight in December. The Bulldogs, though, have dominated the boards the last two games, giving them two straight blowout wins over league opponents and putting them back in the Top 25 on Monday after a two-week absence.
Gonzaga won the rebounding battle 46-27 in an 85-51 victory over San Francisco on Saturday night. Last Thursday, it outrebounded Santa Clara 46-29 en route to a 95-53 win.
“When we were getting beat on the boards we were losing games,” Bulldogs guard Micah Downs said. “We get a lot of open 3s off offensive rebounds.”
Gonzaga fell to then-No. 2 Connecticut, Portland State and Utah last month in games in which it was beaten badly on the glass.
“We’ve spent a lot of time on that,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said.
Gonzaga has had little trouble dominating the boards against Pepperdine (4-15, 1-2) in recent years. The Bulldogs have outrebounded the Waves by an average of 44.1-28.4 during their 14-game win streak in the series.
Pepperdine has also had a tough time stopping Gonzaga offensively, with the Bulldogs averaging 88.0 points and shooting 44.1 percent from 3-point range during their run. The Waves haven’t beaten Gonzaga since Jan. 18, 2002, when they earned an 88-79 home victory.
In the teams’ last meeting, the Bulldogs outrebounded the Waves 60-26 and held them to 31.1 percent shooting in a 101-59 win Feb. 9. Gonzaga has won 29 of the last 34 matchups and leads the series 34-31.
The Bulldogs, hitting the road for the first time in WCC play this season, have taken six consecutive road games against Pepperdine. They’ve shot 48.5 percent from beyond the arc in those contests.
Gonzaga’s Austin Daye went 3-for-5 from 3-point range and finished with a career-high 25 points while adding nine rebounds versus San Francisco. The sophomore, averaging 13.6 points and 6.7 rebounds, was named WCC player of the week. He’s scored at least 20 points in two straight games after being held under 10 in two of his previous three contests.
Daye is one of four Bulldogs averaging double figures in scoring. Senior forward Josh Heytvelt leads Gonzaga with 14.1 points per game, but has been held to a total of 17 in his last two contests.
Pepperdine, meanwhile, has struggled offensively this season, averaging 62.8 points and shooting 39.3 percent from the floor. That’s due in part to inexperience, as the Waves start four freshman and a sophomore.
Pepperdine has been held to less than 50 points in each of its last two games, shooting 33.9 percent in that span, and is coming off its worst performance of the season. The Waves were pounded 96-46 by Saint Mary’s on Saturday, shooting 32.8 percent (19-for-58) from the field and 16.7 percent (2-for-12) from 3-point range.
Keion Bell scored 20 points to lead Pepperdine. The freshman guard is one of two Waves averaging double figures in scoring at 10.9 points.
Sophomore forward Mychel Thompson is averaging 11.3 points.