Gonzaga hoping to repeat defensive effort against the Waves in rematch

Jan. 17—MALIBU, Calif. — Gonzaga's Mark Few has a 50-2 record against Pepperdine, including 46 consecutive wins in the series, but it's a matchup that always has the 25th-year head coach's undivided attention.

The Waves, as they've been in recent seasons under coach Lorenzo Romar, have a nice collection of talent, proven offensive firepower and potentially another NBA player to join the likes of Maxwell Lewis and Kessler Edwards.

The Zags slowed down Pepperdine's big three of Michael Ajayi, Houston Mallette and Jevon Porter during an 86-60 victory at the Arena two weeks ago. The trio combined for just 35 points on 8-of-36 shooting from the field, well below their average of 47 points.

"Those guys are talented, man. I'm telling you," Few said afterward, calling the defensive effort "really, really, really good."

Gonzaga's challenge in Thursday's rematch at sold-out Firestone Fieldhouse remains the same: Trying to keep the high-scoring trio in check as well as a Pepperdine offense that averaged 88 points in wins over Pacific and San Diego last week.

Pepperdine's challenge is finding a way to defend Gonzaga's quartet of bigs — Graham Ike, Anton Watson, Braden Huff and Ben Gregg combined for 54 of the team's 86 points. The Zags scored 44 points in the paint.

Gonzaga (11-5, 2-1 West Coast Conference) has had a week to prepare after a disappointing 77-76 loss at Santa Clara dropped the Zags to fourth in the standings. GU, which visits San Diego on Saturday, is 0-2 in road games with the other setback coming at Washington, 78-73, in December. The Waves (9-10, 2-2) are 8-3 at home.

"Look, it's going to be really difficult for us on the road," Few said after last week's loss. "All these games are going to be really difficult. We have to compete better than we did (versus Santa Clara) in the first half. If we do that, we'll give ourselves a chance."

Few is one win from becoming just the 37th Division I coach with 700 career victories. The Zags' 46-game winning streak in the series — 38 have been by double figures — ranks as the third longest in Division I history.

The Waves, with Mallette, Porter and Lewis, lost twice to Gonzaga last year but scored 88 points in each game. Gonzaga rolled to a 23-point win in Spokane but the rematch was tight with the Zags pulling away in the closing minutes for a 97-88 victory.

Junior college transfer Ajayi is putting up huge numbers in his first season with the Waves. The 6-foot-7 forward leads the WCC in scoring (18.2) and is second in rebounding (9.8). He has 11 double-doubles, third nationally. He's made 50% of his 3-point attempts.

Ajayi has scored 27, 21 and 24 points in three games following the GU loss. Mallette, a 6-5 junior guard, had 42 points and made 10 of 19 3s in two wins last week. He averages 16.7 points, second in the conference behind Ajayi.

The 6-11 Porter, whose older brother Michael won a ring with NBA champion Denver last season, appears to be regaining his form after being sidelined by knee surgery. He's averaging 12 points and five rebounds in seven games, but poured in a season-high 26 points against Pacific.

Point guard Ethan Anderson, who previously played at USC and Wyoming, chips in 5.9 points and 3.8 assists. Boubacar Coulibaly, a 6-10 post who played two seasons at USC, had a career-high 17 points against San Diego. He averages 9.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks.

Gonzaga's Watson carried the offense with 32 points against Santa Clara, boosting his team-leading average to 14.9 points.

"I think every game is going to be (close) like this this year," the 6-8 forward said following the loss to Santa Clara. "Even the last couple years, it's hard to win on the road because it's everyone's Super Bowl playing against us. We have to lock in, just focus up."