SPOKANE, Wash. — Pepperdine had closed within two points with more than seven minutes left, and forwards Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie of No. 9 Gonzaga rose to meet the challenge.
Williams had two dunks and a block, and Tillie hit a couple of 3-pointers, to sink the Waves 81-67 on Saturday night.
“I’m playing with confidence,” said Williams, who had 18 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks for his sixth consecutive double-double. It’s rebound first. Points will come second. It’s been working for me.”
Coach Mark Few said Williams’ exceptional play during February was not a surprise.
“When he plays assertively, athletically … he’s a handful,” Few said. “He’s cutting loose a little bit.”
Tillie and Josh Perkins each scored 15 points for Gonzaga (25-4, 15-1 West Coast), which has won nine consecutive games and remains in first place in the West Coast Conference.
Colbey Ross scored 21 points for Pepperdine (4-24, 1-15), which has lost seven straight.
“Give them credit,” Williams said about Pepperdine. “They played a hell of a game out there. It was gut-check time.”
Gonzaga has won 35 straight games against Pepperdine dating to 2002. The Waves have not won in Spokane since 1998.
“They dialed it up defensively late in the game and got on a run,” Pepperdine coach Marty Wilson said of Gonzaga.
“We talked about not letting the crowd get in our heads, but it did,” Wilson said. “They went on a couple runs and the more the crowd was in the game, the better they played.”
Gonzaga hit four 3-pointers during an early 20-6 run to take a 26-12 lead.
Gonzaga began missing and Pepperdine clawed back to trail just 34-28 late in the first.
The Zags led 39-32 at halftime, after holding the Waves to 41 percent shooting.
Three 3-pointers in the opening minutes of the second half lifted the Bulldogs to a 54-40 lead.
But the Waves came back and a basket by Trae Berhow cut Gonzaga’s lead to 66-64 with 7:32 left. Tillie hit a 3-pointer and Williams dunked to push Gonzaga’s lead back to seven.
The Waves were scoreless for more than six minutes, missing seven shots, as the Zags built a 77-64 lead.
“In the end we were solid in the last four minutes,” Few said. “We were making plays at the end. We started the game well, but we couldn’t quite put them away (until the closing minutes).”
Gonzaga shot nearly 57 percent from 3-point range (13 of 23), but just 53 percent from the free throw line (8 of 15). Pepperdine shot 41.4 percent in each half.
TWENTY FIVE WINS
Gonzaga has won at least 25 games for 11 consecutive seasons, trailing only Kansas’ streak of 12. “That’s really significant,” Few said. “Those are hard to come by. I don’t take them for granted.”
Pepperdine: The school announced earlier this week that Coach Marty Wilson, in his seventh season, will not return next year. “I was blessed to be able to coach at my alma mater for seven years,” Wilson said. “Not many people get that opportunity.” Few said the close game was a sign of how much Wilson’s players respect him. Nine of the Waves have missed games with injuries this season. Ross leads all WCC freshmen in scoring at 14.3 points per game.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs and No. 3 Villanova are the only teams in the nation that have six players averaging at least 10 points per game. The Zags are seeking a 20th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. This was senior night for Williams and Silas Melson.
Pepperdine plays at No. 15 Saint Mary’s next Thursday.
Gonzaga, which wrapped up its home season on Saturday, plays at San Diego next Thursday.