Snowed Under in Spokane

Saturday night's nationally televised West Coast Conference showdown threatened to be a blowout early, threatened to be a nailbiter late, but in the end, turned out to be just a high-profile notch on the Kennel bedpost as Dan Dickau led the Bulldogs to a solid 93-76 victory over the Waves.

Dickau showed a national audience why most insiders consider him one of the nation's best players, scoring more than half of his 26 points from the free throw line while dishing seven assists, and four other Bulldogs scored in double figures to keep the Waves at bay at the Kennel.

The game had all the makings of a runaway in the opening minutes when Gonzaga exploded to an 11-0 lead. The Waves responded with a small run and settled things down from there, keeping the score in single digits most of the half. But play was sloppy by both teams, and a late surge pushed the Zags' halftime lead to 50-35.

The second half was considerably better played on both ends. Gonzaga's lead reached 20, but Glen McGowan got going for the Waves, and with about nine minutes left, Pepperdine found its rhythm and made a push.

The Waves got as close as five points on a couple of occasions, but the Zags finished the game with a flurry of free throws, and the Waves were unable to claw their way out of the sizable hole they dug themselves for the first 3/4 of the game.

McGowan finished with a career-high 26 points, including a remarkable 4-4 from three-point range. Jimmy Miggins was the only other Wave in double figures with 17.

Disturbingly absent was the production of Cedric Suitt (five fouls, no points or blocks in just ten minutes), Craig Lewis (2-11 FG, 5 points), Terrance Johnson (2-7 FG, 5 points), and Devin Montgomery (4 points, 3 assists).

Dickau's efforts were supported by Blake Stepp's 16 points, Zach Gourde's 11 points and 12 rebounds, Alex Hernandez's 14 points, and Cory Violette's 16 points and 8 rebounds off the bench (the sophomore was seated for senior night).

Look no further than the free throw line to see the difference between the teams. The Bulldogs made more free throws (33-42, 79%) than the Waves attempted (18-32, 56%).

When Gonzaga visited in Malibu in January, they did so as the nation's best rebounding team and were humbled on the boards by the inspired Waves. This time, they got back to business, outrebounding the Waves 45-32.

The WCC's potential coming-out party looked pretty sloppy throughout the first half. Gonzaga did not look like a top-10 team and Pepperdine looked worse. Blown laypus, errant lob passes, and general jitters seemed to have taken over on both ends.

But by the end, the individual talents of some of the nation's most underrated players -- and more importantly, the fact that both belong in the NCAA Tournament regardless of the conference tournament championship -- became evident.

It could be argued that the Waves (18-7, 11-1 WCC) played a very poor game, and had they been able to get some of their usual stars going, they would have had a great chance for an upset. But Gonzaga is an outstanding team, and if Pepperdine did play poorly, the Bulldogs (24-3, 11-1) deserve the credit for that.

The two teams are now in a dead heat for first place in the WCC. The Waves return home for the 4th and 5th place teams in the conference, Santa Clara and San Diego, next weekend. Gonzaga, meanwhile, hits the road for 3rd place San Francisco and St. Mary's. If the two teams finish tied, a coin flip would determine the #1 seed in the tournament.