MALIBU, Calif. (AP)—Gonzaga was in desperate need of a sparkplug in its West Coast Conference opener and David Stockton was happy to oblige.
Stockton came off the bench to help the 10th-ranked Bulldogs climb out of a deficit in the first half and he provided another boost in the second of Gonzaga’s 78-62 victory over Pepperdine on Thursday night.
Elias Harris scored 18 points and Kelly Olynyk had 16 as the Bulldogs (14-1, 1-0 WCC) won despite shooting a season-low 43.4 percent from the field.
Stockton scored nine points and had four steals and Kevin Pangos scored nine points.
Stockton keyed Gonzaga with three steals in the first half and helped the Bulldogs get the ball to their big men to hold off a rallying Pepperdine team that was down two points with 12 minutes left.
“I thought he sparked us in both halves,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “He was the one guy that was being proactive. I thought I had a whole team full of guys that was being reactive. Both times we put David in the game he kind of got us going.”
Stockton, the son of Naismith Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton, took pride in the four steals. It was originally five but one was taken away on the final box score.
“I like to see that on there,” Stockton said. “That’s something I’ve always tried to do and I’ve kind of lost sight of it. It was fun to fly around tonight and get your hands on a lot of things and disrupt a team.
“I was just trying to provide a spark. I have the luxury to sit and watch and see how our team is feeling. Whatever I can provide, whatever I can see, I can go out and that’s my goal on the court—to help the team in any way possible and stay on that spark.”
Pangos gave Gonzaga the lead for good at 38-36 on a 3-pointer and the Bulldogs pulled away for their 23rd consecutive win against Pepperdine, its longest streak against a conference opponent.
Lorne Jackson led the Waves (8-6, 0-1) with 16 points and Jordan Baker had 15.
Jackson kept the Waves in it for much of the second half. He made consecutive baskets on a 3-pointer and a long 2-pointer from the corner to get the Waves within 43-41, but Stockton responded with a drive.
“I think he was the difference-maker in the game,” Jackson said. “He came out with a lot of energy, got a few steals in the first half and he just got their offense running and going out in transition.”
Gonzaga appeared to grab momentum when Pepperdine turned it over out of a timeout at 8:22. Mike Hart missed inside, sprawled to collect his own rebound own and passed it out to Pangos for a 3-pointer for a 57-47 lead.
Jackson came back with a left-handed drive but the Waves couldn’t get much closer. Gonzaga made 25 of 29 free throw attempts and shot 56 percent in the second half.
Gonzaga managed through a poor-shooting first half and took a 30-26 lead into halftime. The Bulldogs, ranked second nationally in field goal percentage, shot 37.1 percent and 3 for 11 from 3-point range, relying on 14 points from their bench.
Few said he tried to prepare his team for a tough turnaround, having come off a win at Oklahoma State on New Year’s Eve that gave the Bulldogs a 5-0 record against Big 12 competition. Did it have an effect on the start?
“I’d like to say no because we talked about it and we addressed this over and over again,” Few said. “We had some strange-looking plays at the start of it—hitting shoulders and falling down. I think we had two or three blooper-like plays. But basically Pepperdine was just outhustling us. They were more physical than us, which is rare. We’ve been a physical team all year.”
Stockton put them in the lead at 23-21 with a driving layup and a runner off a Pepperdine turnover. Gonzaga forced Pepperdine into 11 first-half turnovers.
Gonzaga missed 11 of its first 14 shots and fell into a 14-6 deficit to start. Przemek Karnowski helped get it going with a left-handed hook shot and a basket inside before Stockton made a 3-pointer. Hart’s 3 gave Gonzaga its first lead at 19-18.
Jackson, Pepperdine’s leading scorer, didn’t start. Seven-foot center Jan Maehlen started for the first time this season in order to counter Gonzaga’s size.
“That was our challenge,” Pepperdine coach Marty Wilson said. “We knew it was going to be a physical battle. They’re big, they’re strong, they’re physical and they force the refs to have to make a call, and they did that tonight. That was the difference in the second half.”