Pepperdine-Gonzaga Preview

The Associated Press

After receiving a scare in its last game, Gonzaga hopes to be better prepared against another opponent it should expect to easily handle.

The sixth-ranked Bulldogs look to remain undefeated in West Coast Conference play as they try for a 24th consecutive victory over visiting Pepperdine on Thursday night.

Gonzaga (21-2, 8-0) won its previous four WCC games by an average of 25.2 points before holding off San Diego for a 65-63 road win Saturday. The Bulldogs' only points in the final 2:20 came on reserve guard David Stockton's basket with 55.9 seconds left, and Elias Harris blocked the Toreros' potential game-winning 3-pointer in the final moments.

Though the Bulldogs are off to their best league start since going 14-0 in 2008-09, they realize it's important to be ready for every challenge no matter the caliber of opponent. Pepperdine (10-12, 2-7) has lost three straight and six of seven.

San Diego had lost three in a row overall and eight straight versus Gonzaga prior to Saturday but erased a nine-point halftime deficit and held a four-point lead with 7 1/2 minutes to play. The Bulldogs were held to 43.9 percent shooting - they're among the national leaders at 50.9 - and got outrebounded 38-32.

"We battled," said Harris, who had 18 points and eight rebounds. "It was really physical. It went back and forth. They gave us a hell of a time rebounding the ball. They pushed us around.

"We really need to go back (to practice) and go back to boxing out with more heart because (Saturday) was not acceptable."

Looking to improve upon their latest effort rather than just be grateful for the victory could fuel the Bulldogs to a 15th consecutive WCC home victory.

Gonzaga's 23-game winning streak against the Waves is its longest over a conference opponent, but it struggled at times in the teams' first meeting Jan. 3. Despite facing an early 14-6 deficit and shooting a season-low 43.4 percent, the Bulldogs won 78-62 at Pepperdine behind Harris' 18 points.

Stockton again was a big part, scoring nine points to go with four steals and three assists in 23 minutes. Gonzaga shot 56.0 percent from the field in the second half and finished 25 of 29 at the free-throw line.

"We've got one more game up there and hopefully we'll see them in the conference tournament, so hopefully it's not over," Pepperdine guard Lorne Jackson said after scoring 16 points in that contest.

Though the Waves played the Bulldogs hard at home, their last win in the series came in Malibu on Jan. 18, 2002. They've dropped 14 straight at Gonzaga by an average 21.5 points since a 65-64 win Feb. 19, 1998.

Harris had 10 points in 22 minutes of last season's 73-45 home rout of Pepperdine after scoring 39 over his previous two home games against the Waves.

Averaging a team-leading 14.3 points, Jackson is Pepperdine's lone senior contributor. He missed last season with an ACL injury but has 35 points in his last two games at Gonzaga.

Jackson scored 20 and went 8 of 13 from the field in an 86-78 home loss to San Francisco on Saturday.

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