Rivalry Week on ESPN: Gonzaga Shines

In front of a national ESPN audience during Rivalry Week and a hostile crowd of orange-clad Pepperdine fans, Gonzaga jumps on the Waves, led by Blake Stepp with balanced scoring from Zach Gourde, Cory Violette, Kyle Bankhead and others.

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A ten rebound differential and an eight three point basket advantage powered Gonzaga past Pepperdine on a nationally televised game in Malibu Wednesday night. Cory Violette and Ronny Turiaf allowed the Waves very few second chances as they collected 14 and 7 boards, respectively. On the offensive end, Blake Stepp, Kyle Bankhead, and Winston Brooks poured in 11 treys of the 21 they attempted. Gonzaga's defense, meanwhile, effectively kept Pepperdine from ever getting into its rhythm, with the exception of a short burst at the end of the first half. The Waves, plagued by injuries, looked overpowered and bowed to the Bulldogs, 78-63.

The first half was an offensive battle. Both teams shot over 50%, and each made an identical number of baskets. The difference was that Gonzaga did much of its scoring from behind the arc. Kyle Bankhead, starting for Tony Skinner whose ankle was re-injured in the Santa Clara game, drained 4 out of 4 three pointers in the first half. Winston Brooks connected on both of his three-point attempts of the opening half and Blake Stepp added 13 points, 9 of which came on long-distance shots. In the paint, Richard Fox, Cory Violette, and Zach Gourde each contributed meaningful points as Gonzaga led by as much as 16 points before intermission. Some quick whistles kept Ronny Turiaf from finding his range during the first half, and while his rebounding returned to form in the second half, he never scored during the contest. A late rally by the Waves brought them within 9 points of the Bulldogs. As the half ended, Gonzaga led, 51-42.

Both teams were only half as effective in the final 20 minutes as they were in the opening stanza. Gonzaga continued to outplay the Waves, winning the second period by 6 points, 27-21. Now, however, it was a defensive struggle with both teams matching one another miss-for-miss, foul-for-foul. It was only a matter of time until one team broke free of the offensive slump, and it was Blake Stepp who decided which team it would be. With the Zags clinging to a 6 point lead, he nailed a three pointer. Moments later, after colliding with teammate Cory Violette, a dazed-looking Stepp wanted the ball and connected on another long-distance bomb to put Gonzaga ahead by 12. Two subsequent buckets by Violette, one by Gourde, and a Stepp lay-in gave Gonzaga a 20 point lead.

Firestone Fieldhouse, once raucous, became silent.

The Bulldogs were paced by Stepp's 27 points, which included his 1000th of his career at GU. Cory Violette anchored the Zags inside game, recording his seventh double-double of the season: 11 points to go with his game-high 14 boards. Gonzaga is now 8-0 in conference play and 17-5 for the season.

The Zags visit Loyola-Marymont Saturday night for a 7 pm tip-off.

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