In that first meeting between the Bulldogs and the Waves we saw Killian Tillie in great form, coming up with 20 points and a potentially game-saving block in the waning seconds to power the Zags to a 75-70 victory. Filip Petrusev had his first double-double of the new year in that contest with his 16 points and 10 rebounds, while Joel Ayayi showed up in a big way by shooting 5 for 7 from the floor, including 2 for 4 from deep to round out his 12 points nicely.
Despite some strong offensive performances on Gonzaga’s end, Pepperdine’s pressure defense threw the Bulldogs into fits in that 1st meeting—to the tune of 17 turnovers and a scoreless game for the Zags’ starting point guard, Ryan Woolridge. Good defense, and a combined 38 points for Pepperdine’s Colbey Ross and Kameron Edwards almost spelled disaster in the Kennel that night. Luckily the team was able to outrebound Pepperdine 39-30, cause 15 Waves turnovers, and make a couple key plays down the stretch to put that one on ice in Gonzaga’s favor.
Last Saturday’s contest ended up being somewhat similar to the first as Pepperdine came out with some good pressure defense, caused a number of early Bulldog turnovers, and kept the score very close through a majority of the game. It differed from the previous meeting in that there was no Killian Tillie—and despite that fact there wasn’t much drama at the end. In response to Pepperdine’s pressure on defense, Gonzaga went early and often to its bread and butter down low, especially to Filip Petrusev.
Coming off a game against Saint Mary’s the week before in which he and his frontcourt teammate, Drew Timme, had double-doubles (Timme with 20 points and 10 rebounds, Petrusev with 18 points and 11 rebounds), the native-Serbian came out strong with 20 of the Zags 40 points in the first half. Petrusev finished with another double-double in the game with 27 points and 12 rebounds—though not with quite as efficient a shooting percentage as his 56.8% average for the season in a 9 for 20 effort.
Many of Pepperdine’s 20 fouls were given in an effort to stop Petrusev. Even fouls didn’t stop Gonzaga’s leading scorer as he converted numerous and-1 opportunities and ended up a very decent 9 for 13 from the foul line. Though the Zags’ freshman rising star in the frontcourt, Drew Timme, didn’t best his career high scoring against Pepperdine like he did with his 20 against the Gaels a week earlier, he shot more efficiently than any other Zag from the field in a 4 for 6 effort to earn 10 points and boost his shooting percentage to 62.3% on the season.
Corey Kispert was a star again in Gonzaga’s backcourt, shooting 5 for 8 from beyond the arc and adding 6 rebounds and 5 assists to his 19 points. Despite all these strong efforts in Malibu, it did take Gonzaga three-quarters of the game to finally pull into a comfortable, double-digit lead. The Bulldogs took a slender 40-36 lead into the locker room at halftime, compared to the earlier game in Spokane where the score was tied at the break, 37-37. It also took a full half last Saturday for Joel Ayayi to get going on offense. Held scoreless in the first half and struggling to connect from deep, Ayayi came up with 11 points in the 2nd half and added 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals to his stat line.
Much like the first contest, last Saturday saw Colbey Ross and Kameron Edwards coming up big for Pepperdine with 23 and 22 points respectively. But it’s hard to beat a team with the kind of balance we see from Gonzaga where all 7 of the players who play a significant number of minutes average double digits scoring. And despite the fact one of the better of those 7 was sitting on the bench, all 6 of the others reached double digits against the Waves in Malibu as well. Ryan Woolridge, who was held scoreless in the last meeting of these teams, earned 10 points and helped Gonzaga best Pepperdine on the boards by grabbing 8 himself. The Bulldogs ultimately won the battle on the glass by coming up with 39 total rebounds to Pepperdine’s 32, and 10 offensive rebounds to the Waves’ 7. Woolridge’s fellow graduate transfer from Texas, Admon Gilder continued his humble excellence as well, going 1 of 2 from deep and 4 of 4 from the charity stipe to reach 11 points, and adding 5 assists to Gonzaga’s 20 assists for the game.
Martynas Arlauskas made an appearance in the game early for about 8 minutes, and got another opportunity to find his pacing and his legs. As the 8th Zag in a tight, essentially 7-man rotation, his ability to contribute in some way could become very important in games where the already slim Gonzaga lineup is further thinned by foul trouble or injury. Tillie’s difficulty lately with stringing together more than 2 or 3 games in a row before having to sit two or more out is worrisome to say the least. His dominant presence on both ends of the court is going to be helpful if not essential to the Bulldogs’ high hopes of finding themselves in the Sweet 16, the Elite 8, the Final 4 and hopefully the title game this season.
Before we go looking too far ahead, however, Gonzaga still has a slate of games in February to finish up. San Francisco comes to Spokane on Thursday of this week, followed by a trip to Provo to face the now #23 BYU Cougars on Saturday—both available to a national audience on ESPN2. Both will be serious challenges, and if the Zags are still sans Tillie, they’re going to be downright difficult.
Last time the Bulldogs faced off against the Dons in San Francisco, the game went down to the wire with Corey Kispert putting on his hero cape and scoring 5 points in the last 2 minutes to lead the Zags to a very narrow 83-79 victory. If it’s a six-man rotation for Gonzaga minus Tillie, like it was in San Francisco, we could see much the same—a very close game. Despite the fact that Gonzaga sailed past BYU, 92-69 in the Kennel during their first meeting this season, I’m even more concerned about that game on Saturday than I am about the one at home against SF. In the first meeting between GU and BYU, Yoeli Childs, the Cougars’ star forward and leading scorer with 20.7 points per game, was sitting out with a hand injury.
I don’t expect easy sailing this time in Provo with Childs playing some great basketball of late and the Cougars having won 6-straight, including particularly strong wins against Pepperdine, 107-90, and San Francisco, 90-76. BYU is going to want to win this one badly to both stay in the top 25, punch the teams ticket to the big dance, and get some revenge against the Bulldogs who have embarrassed them in Provo and Spokane multiple times in the last few years. This cat and dog fight is one you shouldn’t miss.
I’ve got separate predictions for both games depending on whether Killian Tillie is going to be playing or not. If he’s tweaked his ankle really good, I suspect Gonzaga will keep him on the bench against the Dons and leave it to the might 6 to take care of business against San Franscisco. It’s just as likely, though, that he’ll play in both and I sincerely hope so. If Tillie doesn’t play I say Gonzaga doesn’t quite control the game, but uses the energy of the home crowd to stay comfortably on top, pulling away at the end. My guess is 88-77. If Tillie plays in good form it won’t be as pretty: 95-69. If Tille doesn’t play against BYU, Gonzaga edges past the Cougars despite the hostile crowd 91-87. If Tillie plays against BYU, I think we win by double digits and we reach triple digits: 104-71. Those numbers may be a little inflated by love, but I’ll stick by them.