The 10th-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs and Pepperdine Waves tip off West Coast Conference action on Thursday, as the two teams square off the Firestone Fieldhouse in Malibu.
Despite having their long streak of conference titles come to an end last season (11), Mark Few's Bulldogs are once again the favorites to win the league crown. Gonzaga has certainly looked the past of a powerhouse this season, winning 13 of its 14 games to date to set the school record for best start in its Division I history. The Zags' lone loss came on Dec. 8 against top-25 foe Illinois (85-74), but the team has rallied with four straight wins to close out the 2012 calendar year, including Monday's thrilling 69-68 win at Oklahoma State.
Marty Wilson's Waves are flying a bit under the radar, but have certainly had their moments this season, closing out non-conference play at a respectable 8-5. The Waves ended the 2012 portion of their schedule with wins in two of their last three games, including a 60-59 decision over Fresno State last Friday. The eight victories are the most non-conference wins heading into league play for the Waves since the 2004-05 season.
Gonzaga holds a 42-31 advantage in the all-time series with Pepperdine, including wins in each of the last 22 meetings dating back to the 2001-02 season.
Kevin Pangos netted 23 points and Kelly Olynyk added 21, as Gonzaga came from behind to knock off Oklahoma State in Stillwater on Monday. Despite the strong offensive performances, it was a Gary Bell Jr. 3-pointer with under a minute to play that gave the Bulldogs the lead and sent them onto victory. Gonzaga had a huge advantage on the boards (37-21) and swept its Big 12 non-conference slate with a flawless 5-0 mark this year.
Gonzaga is one of the most balanced and productive offensive teams in the country, shooting .518 from the floor (second nationally), while posting 80.9 ppg. Olynyk and Elias Harris give the team a pair of big time performers in the frontcourt. Olynyk is shooting a hefty .670 from the floor and leads the team in scoring at 15.7 ppg, while ranking second in rebounding (6.5 rpg). Harris is converting 51.2 percent of the time from the floor and pours in 14.9 ppg, while leading the way on the glass (7.2 rpg). Pangos (12.4 ppg) and Bell (10.4 ppg) are getting it done along the perimeter, as the pair have combined for 53 of the team's 88 3-pointers to date.
The Waves aren't quite as efficient on the offensive end, but the team has shown signs of improved play, out-shooting its last 11 opponents. Overall, Pepperdine is averaging a modest 65.0 ppg, although doing so on a healthy .458 shooting. Lorne Jackson is tops on the team in scoring at 14.8 ppg, despite shooting just .418 from the floor. Stacy Davis is the only other player currently in double figures at 11.3 ppg, while pacing the Waves in rebounding (6.9 rpg). Jordan Baker is just under double-digits at 9.8 ppg and is the team's top distributor (3.8 apg).
Jackson converted the game-winning layup with just under four seconds remaining, propelling the Waves to a thrilling one-point win over Fresno State last week. Davis led the team in scoring and rebounding in the victory, just missing a double-double with 18 points and nine rebounds. Jackson added 16 points to the cause, while Nikolas Skouen came off the bench to tally 12 points in only 15 minutes of work.