Gonzaga has easily handled West Coast Conference foe Pepperdine in most matchups over the past decade, but coach Mark Few thinks the next one could prove a little tougher.
Playing as a ranked team for the first time in nearly a month, the No. 25 Bulldogs will try to add to a six-game win streak Thursday night when they host a Waves team that Few feels has grown from its struggles.
Gonzaga (11-2, 1-0) has won 20 in a row over Pepperdine since an 88-79 loss Jan. 18, 2002. Only three of those victories were not by at least 10 points, and the Bulldogs took last season's two meetings by a combined 36. Their home winning streak in the series is up to 13 and dates back to a 65-64 defeat Feb. 19, 1998.
Despite that domination, his team's improvement lately and the Waves' lackluster record, Few still sees a potentially difficult matchup with an experienced opponent.
The two leading scorers for Pepperdine (7-6, 1-1), seniors Taylor Darby (12.1 points per game) and Corbin Moore (10.8), have been starters since they were freshmen. Junior guards Joshua Lowery and Caleb Willis have started games in all three of their seasons with the program.
"They've taken their lumps. They've started since they were freshmen. Now they're at the point where they're seniors," Few said. "With their experience and ability, this is a much better team than the Pepperdine teams we've seen in the past."
Few's team, meanwhile, has been much better on defense and on the boards since its back-to-back losses to Illinois and Michigan State last month.
Gonzaga has allowed 58.7 points per game on 39.6 percent shooting during its win streak after giving up averages of 67.3 points and 44.4 percent over its first seven games. The Bulldogs have outrebounded their last six opponents by an average of 10.2 boards, up from 3.9 during the 5-2 start.
They outrebounded Xavier 44-31 during a 72-65 road win Saturday and held the Musketeers to 3 of 18 from 3-point range. Xavier, once ranked as high as No. 8 in the AP poll, was back at full strength for the first time since four players were suspended for a brawl in a win over Cincinnati.
"To go there and get a win is a great accomplishment by this group of guys," Few said.
The victory helped the Bulldogs return to the Top 25 for the first time since they were No. 23 in early December.
Reserve Sam Dower led the way with a season-high 20 points and a career-best 10 rebounds. He's averaged 17.0 points in the past three games, nearly double his season average.
Kevin Pangos tops the Bulldogs with 14.8 points per game and has averaged 20.3 in the last three at home while making 14 3-pointers.
The Waves could have trouble keeping up with Gonzaga considering they've averaged 60.8 points on 39.7 percent shooting this season. Pepperdine, though, is among the best defensive teams in the conference, giving up 61.5 points per game on 40.3 percent shooting.
The Waves were no match for the WCC's best defensive team Saturday. They were routed 74-45 at home by Saint Mary's, shooting 37.0 percent from the field and missing all 10 of their 3-point tries.
Pepperdine has dropped 16 straight to ranked teams - including eight losses to Gonzaga - since beating Wisconsin on Nov. 27, 2004.