No top-ranked team has won as many as three consecutive games while atop the Associated Press poll this season.
Gonzaga (15-1, 1-0 West Coast Conference) will attempt to become the first when it plays host to Pepperdine (7-8, 0-1) in a WCC game Saturday in Spokane, Washington.
The Bulldogs almost didn’t make it through their second game at No. 1, trailing by seven points at halftime of their WCC opener Thursday night at Portland before rallying for an 85-72 victory.
Senior Killian Tillie scored 18 of his season-high 22 points in the second half as the Bulldogs claimed their 28th consecutive WCC victory.
“I tried to tell them, ‘We’re good, we’ve been like that before. We’ve just got to answer. We have to get ourselves going with hustle plays on the floor,’ ” Tillie said. “And we did that.”
Corey Kispert added 18 points as all five Gonzaga starters scored in double digits. The Bulldogs used a 16-0 run early in the second half to turn an eight-point deficit into a 55-47 lead.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few praised the oft-injured Tillie. The forward from France sat out the previous contest, a 93-72 victory against Detroit Mercy in the Bulldogs’ first game ranked No. 1, and had his left ankle wrapped in ice after Thursday’s win.
“Tillie’s leadership has been great,” Few said. “He’s really been fighting a lot of things, but his leadership has been spectacular, his toughness has been spectacular, and just his ability to calmly make plays.”
Gonzaga has won seven straight games since its only defeat of the season, to Michigan in the championship of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas.
The Bulldogs have won nine WCC regular-season titles and seven conference tournament championships in the past decade.
Pepperdine’s Lorenzo Romar is very familiar with Gonzaga’s success, having coached the Waves during the infancy of the Bulldogs’ rise to national prominence and facing them on an almost annual basis during his 15 years at his alma mater, Washington, before returning to Malibu last season.
“What they’ve done is phenomenal,” Romar told The Spokesman-Review newspaper after playing the Zags last season. “You look back 10 years and they lose a (J.P.) Batista or a (Ronny) Turiaf or a (Kevin) Pangos — and it doesn’t matter who they lost. They’re going to be good the next year — and there have been years they lost a lot of guys and been even better the next year. It’s been impressive to watch.”
The Bulldogs lost three underclassmen — NBA first-round picks Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke and Zach Norvell Jr. — plus Josh Perkins, a four-year starter at guard, from last year’s Elite Eight team.
But Gonzaga has reloaded and leads NCAA Division I in scoring with 88.5 points per game, entering Thursday.
The Waves dropped their conference opener at home Thursday, a 59-56 decision against Pacific.
Colbey Ross led Pepperdine with 15 points but was 1-for-9 from 3-point range, including a last-second attempt that would have tied the score. Kameron Edwards added 13 points and seven rebounds, as teammate and brother Kessler Edwards scored 12.
–Field Level Media