Pepperdine shows promise in loss to Gonzaga

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Lorne Jackson of Pepperdine scores two of his 16 points against Gonzaga. 

Looking to break a 22-game losing streak to Gonzaga University dating back to 2002, the Pepperdine men’s basketball team came out hot before a capacity crowd at Firestone Fieldhouse last week. But despite the Waves holding the Bulldogs to a season-low in field goal shooting, the nation’s 10th-ranked team made enough plays down the stretch to deal Pepperdine a 78-62 defeat in the West Coast Conference opener for both teams. 

“The biggest difference was that they have experienced guys that know how to win,” Pepperdine coach Marty Wilson said. “We’re still trying to learn how to win with less experienced guys. They have guys that have been in these situations.” 

Pepperdine came out strong and established itself behind the play of senior guard Lorne Jackson. A nice reverse layup by Jackson gave the Waves an early 10-4 lead. Moments later Jackson converted two free throws to increase the advantage to 14-6 against the heavily favored Bulldogs. 

Gonzaga, whose streak of 11 consecutive years as WCC regular-season champions was snapped last season by Saint Mary’s, responded behind the energetic play of David Stockton. The son of Hall of Famer John Stockton ignited the stagnant Bulldogs offense with his quick defensive hands (three steals) and aggressive playmaking on offense. 

Stockton scored on a layup and then knocked down a 12-foot jumper from the right wing to give Gonzaga a 25-21 lead with 4:35 remaining in the first half. The Bulldogs entered intermission leading 30-26. 

“I was just trying to provide a spark. I have the luxury to sit and watch and see how our team is feeling,” Stockton said. “Whatever I can provide, whatever I can see, I can go out and that’s my goal on the court; to help the team in any way possible and stay on that spark.” 

An eight-foot jumper by freshman Stacy Davis (eight points, eight rebounds) gave Pepperdine its last lead, 36-35, at the 15:48 mark. 

The Bulldogs began to take control of the game behind senior Elias Harris, who scored a game-high 18 points. Harris knocked down a medium range jumper to give Gonzaga a 50-43 lead with 9:37 remaining. He connected on six-of-six free throws as part of a 24-for- 25 free shooting performance by the Zags in the second half that kept the Waves at bay. 

Jackson did all he could for Pepperdine, scoring 16 points including 10 in the final stanza. The Waves got as close as 54-47 with 8:22 left before Gonzaga (14-1) imposed its will the final eight minutes of action. 

The hosts did take away some positive things. Pepperdine limited the Bulldogs to a season-low 43.4 percent from the field (23 for 53) as the Waves shot better than its opponent for the 12th straight game. The smaller Waves also recorded a 36-30 advantage in rebounding. 

Gonzaga coach Mark Few said he was impressed by the Waves’ effort on the glass. 

“Pepperdine was just outhustling us,” Few said. “They were more physical than us, which is rare. We’ve been a physical team all year.” 

Pepperdine coach Wilson said there were valuable lessons to be taken from the first game of conference play. 

“I’m proud of our guys and how well we defended,” Wilson said. “We were physical, we were tough, we were aggressive, and that’s how we have to play. Our guys are growing and we’re going to learn from this game.” 

Pepperdine (9-6, 1-1) proved to be a quick learner. The Waves bounced back two days later and defeated Portland, 54-47, after trailing 39-27 with more than 13 minutes remaining in the second half. 

Lesson learned. Another day of growth for the young Waves. 

Pepperdine returns to Firestone Fieldhouse on Saturday at 7 p.m. against San Diego.