No. 7 Zags advance to WCC final, continue dominance of Waves
Gonzaga struggled to get going in the first half and led Pepperdine by just two points at the break. However, once the seventh-ranked Bulldogs got going, they just ran away from the Waves.
For the second consecutive game, Gonzaga used a big second-half run to put away an opponent, beat Pepperdine 79-61 Monday night to advance to its 18th straight West Coast Conference tournament final.
Byron Wesley and Kyle Wiltjer combined to score 25 of the Bulldogs’ first 30 points in the second half as Gonzaga (31-2) took a 55-35 lead midway through the period.
"It was great to watch our guys in that second half play defense, generate turnovers, generate deflections, get the ball off the glass and run," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "That’s when we’re obviously at our best, when we can spread you out and post you with our bigs."
Wesley scored 25 points on 10-of-13 shooting, and Wiltjer, who had just three points in the first half, finished with 17. The Zags shot 58 percent in the final period (19 of 33), but their defense also caused a series of turnovers that turned the momentum in their favor.
Gonzaga kept its defensive pressure on and scored 10 points off fast breaks while taking the 20-point lead.
"That was easily the most fun we’ve had in a game this year," said Wesley, who added four steals and three assists. "Just the energy we had, and the crowd was great. From the players in the game to the players on the bench, everyone was engaged. That’s what we want."
Fourth-seeded Pepperdine (18-13) stayed even with the Zags for most of the first half before finally slowing down. The Waves’ best player, Stacy Davis, scored 15 points but shot just 5 for 15. Jeremy Major had 12 points.
"They’re a great team," Davis said of Gonzaga. "They’re very balanced. We have nothing to hang our heads about."
Leading 35-33 at halftime, Gonzaga outscoring Pepperdine 30-12 over the first 9½ minutes of the second half. Wesley scored 13 points and Wiltjer 12 during that run.
After Pepperdine tied the game in the first minute of the second half, the Bulldogs scored 10 consecutive points to take control. Wiltjer and Gary Bell Jr. each hit 3-pointers, and Wesley scored on a dunk after stealing the ball from Davis.
"It starts with the defensive end," Wesley said. "We weren’t really ourselves in the first half, but we came out in the second half and locked in defensively. We were able to get steals and push the ball in transition and get baskets. When we do that, that’s when we’re playing our best basketball."
Afterward, Few noted the importance of a 30-win season, which the Bulldogs accomplished Saturday night in an 81-72 quarterfinal win over San Francisco.
"If you hit 30 in college basketball, that’s one hell of an accomplishment," he said. "I don’t care if it’s Kentucky or Duke or Carolina or anywhere. Thirty is 30, and these guys have hit it two of the last three years."
Gonzaga: Wiltjer missed the final five minutes of the Zags’ quarterfinal win over San Francisco on Saturday after landing on his left hip, but he started Monday’s game. He scored just three points in the first half but made three consecutive 3-pointers during Gonzaga’s second-half run.
Pepperdine: The Waves were hoping to reach the WCC tournament championship game for the first time since 2002. Instead, they suffered their 29th consecutive defeat to Gonzaga.
After Pepperdine tied the score at 35 on a basket by Major, the Zags went on a 10-0 run, ignited by back-to-back baskets by Wiltjer, a 3-pointer by Gary Bell Jr. and a steal and dunk by Wesley.
Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski, who scored a career-high 24 points against USF, had 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting and six rebounds. In addition to his 17 points, Wiltjer had nine rebounds.
Gonzaga: WCC championship game Tuesday night.