Pepperdine-Gonzaga Preview

For nearly a generation, the question is not if Gonzaga will make the West Coast Conference tournament final but who it will play after getting there.

Seeking an 18th consecutive appearance in the WCC championship, the seventh-ranked Bulldogs may be short-handed for Monday night’s semifinal game in Las Vegas against a Pepperdine team they’ve beaten 28 straight times.

Gonzaga (30-2) worked through the kinks of a six-day layoff Saturday night, beating San Francisco 81-72 on the strength of a 16-0 run in the second half. Przemek Karnowski scored a season-high 24 points and forward Kyle Wiltjer added 19 as the Bulldogs shot 75 percent (18 for 24) in the final 20 minutes and scored 40 points in the paint overall.

Not all the news was good for Gonzaga as it chases a potential No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament. Wiltjer left the game with a left hip injury following an awkward fall and did not play the final five minutes. The junior forward will be a game-time decision.

”He’s really, really sore,” Few said of Wiltjer, who is averaging a team-high 16.6 points and leads the conference in 3-point shooting at 44.7 percent. ”He went back in the tunnel and tried to run but didn’t feel right so he didn’t go back in.”

Gonzaga’s run of 17 straight conference tournament final appearances dating back to 1998 is the longest active streak in the NCAA. Only Belmont, which just won the Ohio Valley Conference tournament, has a current streak of at least five.

The Bulldogs have won those 17 semifinal games by an average of 13.4 points and the last three by a combined 53.

Gonzaga has an even longer win streak over Pepperdine, with victories in the last 28 matchups. This is the longest active win streak among teams in the same conference in Division I.

If Wiltjer cannot play, Few has the luxury of both size and depth on his bench and would most likely turn to freshman Domantas Sabonis. He had four points and seven rebounds Saturday, but the son of former Portland Trail Blazers center Arvydas Sabonis has carved up Pepperdine in Gonzaga’s two wins this season – totaling 28 points and 17 rebounds on 14-of-15 shooting.

The 6-foot-10 Sabonis, who averages 9.6 points and a team-leading 7.0 rebounds, had 18 and 12 in Gonzaga’s 78-76 road win over the Waves on Jan. 15. He made one start this season and had 16 points in a 94-54 rout of Texas Southern on Dec. 15.

Pepperdine (18-12) is enjoying its best season since 2002, which was also the last time it reached the WCC tournament final and made the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team after losing to the Zags. The Waves grinded past San Diego 50-47 on Saturday, holding the Toreros to 31.7 percent shooting, while Stacy Davis scored 19 points.

Coach Marty Wilson may again slow down the pace since Pepperdine has limited opponents to 52.6 points per game on 35.9 percent shooting – including 18.2 percent from 3-point range – in its last five contests.

"We told our guys it doesn’t matter how it looks, we had a goal and a mindset for the week," Wilson said. "We talked about the bottom line and our bottom line was to be playing on Monday."

That prowess will be challenged by Kevin Pangos, who hit a pair of 3-pointers in the second half Saturday. The senior is shooting 43.6 percent (68 for 156) from beyond the arc and hit 5 of 10 in the two wins over the Waves.

The Zags also shot a conference-best 40.1 percent from 3-point range.

”I’m just going to keep shooting until they fall,” said Pangos, who is third in the WCC in 3-point shooting. ”That’s my mentality.”