Even though Gonzaga would hold a two point edge at halftime, the Zags were living dangerously as the Pepperdine Waves came out with a game plan that emphasized rebounding in general, offensive rebounding in particular. And the strategy was working.
In a raucous Firestone Fieldhouse on the hills of Malibu, CA, Gonzaga would begin the game by pounding the ball inside to big men Zach Gourde and Cory Violette, both of whom sinking short jumpers and half-hooks for a quick, early lead. But this was a different Waves team that Gonzaga was playing, led by first-year head coach Paul Westphal.
The Waves would make a run, then the Zags would make a run, both building five-point leads in the first half, only to watch the opposition come back and take the lead in this seasaw battle of unbeatens in WCC play.
But a troubling trend had been developing throughout the first twenty minutes. Pepperdine was dominating the boards, limiting Gonzaga to one shot while getting two and three chances on the offensive boards.
Pepperdine's Boomer Brazzle would star in the first half with Zach Gourde doing yeoman's work inside for Gonzaga.
Adjustments would be needed to negate or neutralize the Waves' powerful rebounding display. But the second half would look eerily similar to the first half. Pepperdine continued to outrebound Gonzaga.
Gonzaga would not help themselves in the turnover department, committing 18 turnovers. The Zags and Waves would swap leads and play straight up for most of the second half, but GU was living on borrowed time as one Wave after another collected offensive rebounds, turning missed shots into points. If Brazzle was the Waves' star in the first half, Glen McGowan took the honors for Pepperdine in the second twenty minutes. The big man was unfamiliar to GU and continually burned the Zags with clutch shots down the stretch.
With an overall rebounding margin of +14 and a 24-4 edge at one point, Gonzaga simply could not continue to counter Pepperdine and the Waves would forge a double-digit lead over 13th ranked Gonzaga before the final winning margin of nine was settled upon.
Gonzaga would fail to add another quality foe to its list of victims (St. John's, Texas, Fresno State, St. Joseph's, New Mexico) while Pepperdine would add the Zags to its wins over UCLA, USC and BYU.
Now it was time to learn from mistakes, refocus, take on Loyola-Marymount and win in a convincing manner.
Dan Dickau would make sure of that.
It all began with a Dickau trey for a 3-0 start. The LMU Lions would make it 3-2 and it stayed close for about five minutes. Then Gonzaga would make a statement.
Responding to Coach Mark Few's challenges, Zach, Cory, Ronny, Blake and Anthony would dominate the boards with ferocity. Meanwhile, threes were raining down on Loyola-Marymount like bombs over London in the Battle of Britain.
Gonzaga's Wooden Award Finalist struck for nine trifectas out of eleven first half attempts. Blake Stepp would interrupt with one of his own. By halftime, Dickau already had 34 points to the total of 32 that the entire LMU team had. Zags led by more than 20.
The GU defense came out with purpose and held the Lions to less than 30% from the field, allowing only five treys to hit home. Quietly, Blake Stepp was inching towards a rare triple-double. Zach Gourde already had a double-double.
Dan Dickau could have went for the WCC and NCAA record books but opted to run the offense like a floor general and would only attempt one shot in the final 20 minutes. Despite that, Gonzaga's lead would swell to over 30 points as Alex Hernandez and Stepp ran the fastbreak to precision.
Gersten Pavilion went quiet.
With about five minutes to go, Dickau would sit and watch his backcourt mate Blake Stepp miss a triple-double by one assist and one rebound. Blake would sit for good with over three minutes remaining. Kyle Bankhead would put the finishing touches on with two more long bombs.
The LMU win was sweet but the bitter taste still lingers from the upset by Pepperdine 24 hours before.
The Zags flew home Sunday and will prepare to meet the San Francisco Dons at 8:00pm on Thursday night, followed by a date with St. Mary's at 7:00pm on Saturday.
And each Zag will circle February 16.