Zags show muscle vs. Pepperdine

Gonzaga’s bid to win a 12th straight West Coast Conference regular-season title hit a snag in the team’s last game. With Pepperdine next on the schedule, the Bulldogs have to like their chances of bouncing back.

Hoping to avoid consecutive conference losses for the first time in more than a year, the No. 24 Bulldogs look to rebound with their 22nd straight win over the Waves on Saturday night.

Gonzaga (17-4, 7-2) has finished at least tied for the WCC’s best record each of the last 11 seasons, but the streak could be in jeopardy after Thursday’s 83-73 road loss to conference newcomer BYU. The Bulldogs fell further behind conference leader St. Mary’s, which has an 11-0 league record and will visit Gonzaga next Thursday.

“We were rattled and frazzled,” coach Mark Few said. “Just played with no poise and no composure. Timeouts couldn’t stop it. Substitutions couldn’t stop it.”

Gonzaga’s lack of poise was particularly evident in its inability to control the ball. The Bulldogs committed 19 turnovers, one shy of their season high.

“They just out-toughed us. They played harder than us,” center Robert Sacre said. “That’s usually the case for us. If we get outplayed, then we’re not going to get a win.”

Wins have not been hard to come by against the Waves, who haven’t beaten the Bulldogs in more than a decade. Gonzaga has won 21 straight in the series by an average of 19.8 points, a streak that dates to an 88-79 road defeat Jan. 18, 2002.

The Bulldogs had no problems with the Waves on Jan. 5, holding them to 28.3 percent shooting in a 73-45 rout in Spokane. It was Pepperdine’s worst shooting performance since connecting on 27.4 percent in a 63-44 loss to Gonzaga last season.

Gary Bell Jr., considered a defensive specialist, led the Bulldogs with a career-high 15 points in the teams’ first meeting this season. Fellow freshman guard Kevin Pangos was one of three other Gonzaga players to score in double figures with 11.

“I know how good they are,” Pepperdine coach Marty Wilson said of Gonzaga’s freshman backcourt after that game. “Few has done a good job of implementing them, especially being young guys new to the system.”

Elias Harris, leading Gonzaga with 13.3 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, has averaged 15.4 points and 8.0 boards while shooting 59.2 percent from the field in five career games against the Waves.

Pepperdine, the last team to win a WCC regular-season title without having to share it with Gonzaga, has lost nine of 10 after falling 67-57 at Loyola Marymount on Thursday. Taylor Darby scored 18 points for the Waves (8-14, 2-9), who missed 13 of 15 3-point attempts and 7 of 20 free throws in their sixth straight road loss.

Pepperdine has been better in Malibu, where it’s 5-5, including last Saturday’s 74-62 win over Santa Clara in its most recent game there.

Darby, Pepperdine’s top scorer with 12.1 points per game, has been held to averages of 6.3 points and 38.1 percent shooting in seven career games against Gonzaga. He scored four and went 1 for 6 in the Jan. 5 meeting.

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