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Gonzaga rewind: Filip Petrusev’s offense gets rave reviews

UPDATED: Sun., Feb. 16, 2020

Gonzaga forward Filip Petrusev shoots over Pepperdine’s Kessler Edwards on Saturday. (RINGO H.W. CHIU / AP)
Gonzaga forward Filip Petrusev shoots over Pepperdine’s Kessler Edwards on Saturday. (RINGO H.W. CHIU / AP)

Ten NBA scouts, seated just behind the scorer’s table at Firestone Fieldhouse, no doubt were taking copious notes Saturday during No. 2 Gonzaga’s 89-77 win over Pepperdine.

Sophomore post Filip Petrusev, who dipped his toe in the NBA Draft waters last season, gave them plenty to write about, mostly in a positive sense.

Gonzaga’s talented big man took over in the first half, scoring 20 of his game-high 27 points. Pepperdine didn’t have the size to deal with the 6-foot-11, 235-pound Serbian, who showed off his power and footwork while making nine of his career-high 20 shot attempts.

Petrusev scored buckets inside despite double teams. He looped around 6-9 Victor Ohia Obioha for a layup. He made a play in the first half that most 6-11 posts can only dream about. He grabbed a loose ball in the backcourt, dribbled down and spun past a defender for a layup.

“We went to him hard,” coach Mark Few said. “Drew (Timme) was out (with foul trouble) and they were jamming us on some other actions. We had Filip one-on-one in there and he was delivering in a crowd, taking some hits.

“I was very happy to see that. I think it shows a lot of growth on his part.”

The Waves were more aggressive in the closing half, often forcing Petrusev to earn his points at the free-throw line. Petrusev played 35 minutes – second only to his 40-minute stint versus Oregon in an overtime win – with Killian Tillie out after aggravating his ankle injury earlier in the week.

Petrusev’s impact stretched out to the 3-point line, at both ends of the court. His paint dominance eventually drew more attention and his teammates were left open behind the arc. Corey Kispert was the biggest beneficiary, hitting five 3s. Guards Ryan Woolridge, Joel Ayayi and Admon Gilder each added one.

“Fil is playing so good and Drew has been playing so good lately they have to double him,” Kispert said. “When they double, the design is to empty out of the top and find room at the top. Credit to the bigs for making the right reads.”

The Waves had some success inside offensively against Petrusev. Their smaller lineup also challenged the big man to cover ground on the perimeter, occasionally defending point guard Colbey Ross on switches. The Waves didn’t capitalize, making just 5 of 20 3s, but most were quality looks.

“That was very disconcerting and we survived that,” Few said. “When you play pick-and-pop 5s (like Pepperdine’s Kessler and Kameron Edwards) with how we’re built, it’s hard. It’s hard for Filip, and what are you going to do – he had 20 points first half.

“We were trying to show and stunt. They do a great job of spreading the floor and really spacing you, and he wasn’t doing a great job hustling back to his own (man) so we dodged some bullets. That’s why we were juxtaposing those lineups and crossmatching.”

Gonzaga can expect to see similar tactics from future opponents, particularly when Tillie is watching from the sidelines.

“I knew I was going to have play more without Killian obviously,” Petrusev said. “It was tough. They played fast like us, ball screen right away. It was really tough to execute all those coverages and still do all that work on the offense, but I gave my best. I think I played hard.”

Waves of adversity

Pepperdine has pushed the Zags twice, losing by a combined 17 points. The fifth-place Waves rely heavily on Ross and the Edwards brothers.

“They’re not an easy matchup, especially when you have a dynamic point guard,” Gilder said. “They have a little bit of everything.”

Pepperdine’s trio combined for 58 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists and five steals. They also had seven turnovers, four by Ross, who committed 10 in the first meeting last month. Ross has scored at least 20 points in four of his last five games against Gonzaga.

“He’s a fabulous player,” Few said. “He’s just got such a vast array of shots. He’s shooting 12-foot runners going left, runners going right, pull-up 3s, gets down in the lane and is very patient and pivots around and has a nice touch.

“He’s been one of the harder guys for us to guard all year, and we’ve played a lot of really good point guards.”

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