The Gonzaga Bulldogs finished yet another rigorous early season schedule with an excellent 13-1 record before starting West Coast Conference play. They opened up WCC play on Thursday with a trip to Malibu to take on the Pepperdine Waves, but had some trouble getting going. Luckily for Mark Few and the Zags, David Stockton stepped up and ignited the team to a win.
The Zags started the game sluggish, missing 11 of its first 14 shots, and quickly fell behind in the first half. They finished the day shooting a season-low 43.4 percent from the field and struggled to dictate the tempo of the game. Pepperdine was able to get out and run and if not for ball control issues of their own early in the game could have taken control of this one.
However, Gonzaga was able to weather the early storm before rallying once Stockton came in off the bench. The reserve point guard keyed the Bulldogs with three first half steals while running the offense to push the team to a 30-26 halftime lead. He answered the call again in the second half when the Waves were rallying, feeding the Gonzaga big men down low to pull away down the stretch.
Few recognized how important Stockton was to his team in this game:
“I thought he sparked us in both halves. He was the one guy that was being proactive. I thought I had a whole team full of guys that was being reactive. Both times we put David in the game he kind of got us going.”
Stockton finished the night with nine points, four steals and three assists, but his biggest contribution was the energy off the bench that turned the game around for the No. 10 team in the country. Even Pepperdine recognized Stockton as the key for the Zags, with the leading scorer for the Waves Lorne Jackson saying “he was the difference-maker in the game.”
The win is the 23rd straight win over Pepperdine for Gonzaga, which is their longest streak over any conference opponent. Next, they travel to take on the Santa Clara Broncos, who are doing everything they can to make it a raucous environment for the Bulldog’s visit.
Gonzaga may not be playing the “big” teams on their schedule anymore, but that doesn’t mean that their WCC rivals aren’t going to bring their A-game every night to try and knock them off. Stockton saved them on this night, but they’ll need to find their focus if they hope to continue their roll through conference play.