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Waves Can't Stop Bulldogs

After Pepperdine closes within six points, Gonzaga guard Stepp ignites a 14-0 run to key a 78-63 victory.

February 06, 2003|Rob Fernas | Times Staff Writer

Pepperdine Coach Paul Westphal wasn't going out on a limb when he called Gonzaga guard Blake Stepp the best player in the West Coast Conference before the teams met Wednesday night.

Stepp started the game ranked first or second in the conference in scoring, assists, steals and three-point baskets.

The versatile junior lived up to his reputation, scoring a game-high 27 points and igniting a second-half run that carried Gonzaga to a 78-63 victory in front of 3,297 at Firestone Fieldhouse in Malibu.

Pepperdine trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half but rallied and pulled within 53-47 on a rebound dunk by Robert Turner with 15:32 left to play. Stepp answered with consecutive three-point baskets, starting a 14-0 run that rebuilt Gonzaga's lead to 67-47 with 10:27 left.

The Waves, meanwhile, went more than seven minutes without scoring, prompting their orange-clad fans to head for the exits.

Pepperdine (11-10, 3-5 in the WCC) has lost three consecutive conference games for the first time since the 1996-97 season. Sophomore guard Terrance Johnson led the Waves with 20 points.

Gonzaga (17-5, 8-0) extended its winning streak to nine games and has won 22 consecutive games against WCC opponents. The Bulldogs made 12 of 26 (46.2%) three-point shots and outrebounded Pepperdine, 39-29.

With three of its top players sidelined, Pepperdine wasn't the same team that defeated Gonzaga, 88-79, last season in Malibu.

Center Will Kimble will probably never play again because of a heart condition that required the implantation of a defibrillator. Forward Glen McGowan had portions of two ribs removed because of circulation problems but hopes to return next season. And point guard Devin Montgomery is out for the season because of a broken right thumb that required surgery.

Those personnel losses whittled the Waves' roster to nine players, and the lack of depth became a problem again Wednesday when freshman center Derick Grubb, who was making only his second start, was benched after picking up his third foul with 2:59 left in the first half.

Gonzaga made 10 of 17 three-point shots en route to a 51-42 halftime lead. Stepp scored 13 points, making three of seven three-point shots, and guard Kyle Bankhead had 12 points on four three-point shots.

Pepperdine was one of five from three-point range until Johnson made consecutive three-point baskets that started the Waves on a 16-10 spurt to end the half. The Waves had trailed, 36-20, with six minutes left in the half.

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