Gonzaga-Pepperdine Preview

The Associated Press

After a confidence-boosting win, Gonzaga's focus turns toward its drive to recapture the West Coast Conference title.

That quest begins for the 10th-ranked Bulldogs with Thursday night's visit to Pepperdine.

Gonzaga had a run of 11 consecutive regular-season conference championships snapped in 2011-12 when it finished one game behind Saint Mary's. The Bulldogs (13-1) figure to face another fight with the Gaels and Brigham Young as they try to get back on top, but first they'll seek to continue their dominance over the Waves.

Gonzaga has won its past 22 matchups with Pepperdine (8-5) by an average of 19.5 points, including 10 in a row in Malibu.

The Bulldogs prepared for conference play with a trip to No. 22 Oklahoma State on Monday and came away with a 69-68 victory.

Gary Bell Jr. hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 35.7 seconds left and Kevin Pangos made a pair of late free throws to finish with a team-best 23 points. Pangos scored a season-high 31 in a win over Baylor on Friday.

Gonzaga has won both of its true road games and has four straight victories overall since its lone loss, an 85-74 home defeat to then-No. 13 Illinois.

"We're feeling pretty good," said forward Kelly Olynyk, who had 21 points and nine rebounds Monday. "We're playing well as a team. We're confident in ourselves. We're confident in our teammates. We're confident in our abilities, and I think what we're most confident about is we still have a lot of room to grow.

"We're definitely not at our peak right now."

While Olynyk has topped 20 points in back-to-back games, Elias Harris has been far from his best lately. The senior forward, averaging 14.9 points on 51.2 percent shooting, has missed 16 of 22 shots over the last two games and was held to a season-low seven points against Oklahoma State.

Harris had just nine points but made 4 of 5 shots in the most recent matchup with Pepperdine on Feb. 4 in Malibu. Gonzaga nearly blew a 15-point lead before recovering for a 72-60 win.

Pangos hit a pair of key shots to help turn the momentum and finished with 15 points.

The Waves enter this game boasting one of the conference's stingiest defenses - 63.5 points per game allowed on 39.4 percent shooting - but they haven't played as strong a schedule as Gonzaga, which is giving up a league-low average of 62.4 points.

Pepperdine needed a layup from leading scorer Lorne Jackson with 3.5 seconds left to edge Division II Fresno Pacific 60-59 at home Friday. Jackson, averaging 14.8 points, finished with 16 on 7-of-11 shooting while freshman forward Stacy Davis had 18 points and nine rebounds.

Along with their lengthy skid in this series, the Waves have lost 19 straight to Top 25 opponents since a 75-61 win over then-No. 20 Wisconsin on Nov. 27, 2004. Ten of those defeats have come to Gonzaga.

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