MALIBU, Calif. (AP) — Gonzaga got caught in unusually bad Los Angeles traffic, needing over two hours to reach Pepperdine. Then the third-ranked Zags got rattled against the scrappy Waves whose raucous crowd did its best to will them to the upset.
Kyle Wiltjer scored 19 of his 24 points in the second half and freshman Domantas Sabonis had 18 points on a career-best 9 for 9 shooting to go with a career-high 12 rebounds in a 78-76 victory Thursday night, the Zags’ 27th in a row over the Waves.
“It was a good test for us,” Wiltjer said. “We were a little down we won by so small. But we’re going to have a lot of close games.”
The Zags (17-1, 6-0 West Coast) arrived 25 minutes before the scheduled tipoff because of a traffic accident that caused one of two northbound lanes on Pacific Coast Highway to be closed for a while, creating lengthy delays. Pepperdine coach Marty Wilson agreed to delay the start by 33 minutes
“That was a big-time sportsmanship move by Marty,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, who earned his 200th league win against 24 losses. “Next time we’ll leave three hours early. I’ve done this 26 times and never seen anything like that.”
Jett Raines led four players in double figures with a career-high 22 points for the Waves (11-6, 4-2), who were off to their best league start since 2002 despite not having any seniors. Stacy Davis added 21 points in coming off the bench for the third straight game.
The Zags struggled at the free throw line, going just 14 of 33. Former USC player Byron Wesley was 3 of 10.
“A lot of them were close, rattled in and out,” said Kevin Pangos, an 88 percent free-throw shooter who went 2 of 4.
Davis blamed himself for not taking better advantage of the misses by Pangos and his teammates.
“That’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Davis said. “I take full responsibility for not boxing out my man with two hands and giving him another chance at it.”
Pepperdine closed to 69-68 on a layup by Davis after Wiltjer missed a layup and Davis snagged the defensive rebound. Sabonis scored before Raines’ layup again drew the Waves within one.
Gonzaga scored four in a row to lead 75-70, although Gary Bell Jr. and Wesley each made just 1 of 2 free throws.
A basket by Atif Russell got the Waves within three before Pangos missed a pair of free throws with 21 seconds left. After a timeout, the Waves fouled Pangos, with their fans taunting him about an earlier airball. He made both to keep Gonzaga ahead, 77-72.
Davis powered to the basket for a layup and drew the foul, with his three-point play leaving the Waves trailing 77-75. They were forced to foul Wiltjer, who made 1 of 2.
Jeremy Major went to the line with 1 second left, making the first and missing the second, and the Zags secured the rebound as time expired.
The Waves opened the second half on a 15-7 run, including seven in a row, to close within one point three times. Raines had eight points and Davis, seven, while the 7-foot-1 Przemek Karnowski sat down with his third foul, leaving the middle open for layups.
Gonzaga got away from its inside game in the second half and struggled to get stops until the final couple of minutes. But the Zags owned an 18-2 advantage in second-chance points and 11-0 on fast breaks.
“Every time we turned it over they took advantage of it, and that was a huge difference of the game,” Wilson said.
The Zags shot 70 percent from the floor in the first half, leading 40-31 at the break. Sabonis made all six of his field goal attempts, scoring eight straight points midway through the half that gave Gonzaga its largest lead of 15 points.
Gonzaga: The Zags are staying near Los Angeles International Airport, about 24 miles from Malibu along the four-lane Pacific Coast Highway. … Former Zags star Ronny Turiaf visited the locker room afterward.
Pepperdine: G Amadi Udenyi, the Waves’ assist leader, didn’t play because of a hamstring injury. … It was the fifth time a top-3 team in the AP rankings played at Firestone Fieldhouse.
Pangos said the team’s late arrival wasn’t a factor, although Few and his assistants were sweating it out on the bus.
“We were talking on the bus that it brought us back to AAU days when you get a five-minute warmup,” Pangos said.
The crowd of 3,250 was the biggest at home this season, and the student section was on its feet chanting and cheering much of the game.
“Having the gym packed like that was insane,” Davis said. “It hasn’t been like that all year. Hopefully the fans recognize that we’re not a team to sleep on.”
Gonzaga: At Loyola Marymount on Saturday.
Pepperdine: Host Portland on Saturday.