MALIBU -- With their shots not falling from just about everywhere on the court, the 10th-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs just needed to find their sweet spot at Pepperdine on Thursday night.
They found it, right at the free-throw line.
The Bulldogs hit 24-of-25 free throws in the second half to help distance themselves from the pesky Waves, taking their West Coast Conference opener, 78-62, at Firestone Fieldhouse.
"We struggled with that early in the season," sophomore guard Kevin Pangos said. "Guys would hit two of three, but we'd have to work on our form. It's also mental toughness. It's not just physical ability, it's everybody focusing, making sure every one counts. That's big, it makes sure teams can't get back in it. Those are free points. You're wide open."
Even though Gonzaga (14-1, 1-0) settled itself down at the free-throw line, the Bulldogs needed one big outside shot to regain their momentum.
Pangos, a 2011-12 All-WCC selection, rebounded from a scoreless first half to hit a 3-pointer with less than 14 minutes left in the game, keying a 13-5 rally after the Waves fought back from a halftime deficit to take the lead. Gonzaga went from one point down to seven points up in a span of less than three minutes as the Bulldogs used their size advantage to seize control.
"It's happened before when shots don't fall; they felt great, so I was going to keep shooting them," Pangos said. "I know the team has the utmost confidence me that I'll knock the next one down. In that situation, I was open, and I knocked it down. It felt great."
Pangos and backcourt mate Gary Bell, Jr., had off-nights -- they combined to shoot 3-of-16 from the field. The Bulldogs relied on backup guard David Stockton, who scored nine points off the bench, and their impressive front court.
"Stockton really sparked us," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "I thought he sparked us in both halves. He was the one guy who was being proactive, and I thought I had a whole team of guys who were being pretty reactive."
Maybe on the perimeter, but not in the post.
Elias Harris had 18 points, including 6-of-6 free throws, and six rebounds and Kelly Olynyk added 16 points to lead Gonzaga to its 23rd straight win over the Waves (8-6, 0-1).
"That's what we do; we've got big guys who can put a lot of pressure on you," Few said. "If you don't hedge your ball screen right, our guards are more than comfortable getting in the lane and putting foul pressure on you.
"We didn't do a good enough job of that in the first half, and we talked about fixing that at halftime. That was a big key."
Lorne Jackson had 16 points and Jordan Baker 15 for Pepperdine, but the two combined for to make just 2-of-11 from 3-point range.
Gonzaga rallied from an early deficit behind Stockton, who came off the bench to help the Bulldogs take a 30-26 lead into the half.
Stockton had seven points, three steals, two assists and countless floor burns as he upped Gonzaga's energy with his inspired play.
"I like to sit back on the bench to start out, judge how the team is playing, and find a way to provide a spark," Stockton said. "That's my goal the second I get on the court."
Added Jackson: "I thought he was the difference-maker in the game for them. He came out with a lot of energy. He got a few steals in the first half and he just got their offense running and going."
The Bulldogs, who started the half just 3-of-14 from the field, climbed back into the game with scrappy play, flustering the Pepperdine offense with a mix of full- and half-court pressure. It caused the Waves to commit 11 turnovers in the first half and attempted just 19 shots.
NOTES: Pepperdine had won four consecutive WCC season openers before falling to the Bulldogs. ... Gonzaga is ranked No. 2 in the country in field goal percentage in games through Dec. 30. ... The Bulldogs have gone 38-5 against the Waves during the last 16 seasons. ... The Waves' eight non-conference wins were their highest total since 2004-05.