The favored pastime of those in the beautiful, Los Angeles suburb of Malibu is catching some waves. In the basketball season to come, you can add catching the Waves to the town’s worthwhile recreations.
Coming off an 18-win 2014-’15 season, and returning all five starters from last year, Pepperdine is poised for a breakout campaign.
Gonzaga rules the West Coast Conference basketball scene heading into the 2015-’16 season, just as it has every year since 1999. The Zags are the proverbial rising tide that elevates the entire conference, turning the former one-bid league, destined for 13, 14 and sometimes 15 seeds into a multiple-entrant part of March Madness.
No program has risen faster on the rising tide in the last few years than Pepperdine. And this year’s squad is more than capable of earning one of those bids WCC counterparts like BYU and Saint Mary’s have taken in recent years.
The Waves’ record has improved each season under head coach Marty Wilson, from 10-19 in 2011-’12; 12-18 in 2012-’13; 15-16 in 2013-’14; and last year’s 18-14 finish.
Wilson has Pepperdine on a trajectory into the upper tier of the WCC, which in the coming campaign means a shot at the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 2002.
Pepperdine will be hard-pressed to wrest away a conference championship Gonzaga has monopolized for the better part of almost two decades, but the Waves have proven capable of giving the Zags all they can handle. Each of last year’s meetings were decided by single-digits, including a Gonzaga win by just one bucket in Spokane.
BYU wasn’t so fortunate in either of its conference matchups with Pepperdine. The NCAA Tournament-participant Cougars lost 67-61 in Provo, and again, 80-74, in Malibu.
Pepperdine’s second defeat of BYU, on the heels of a road win at Saint Mary’s, was a prelude to a three-game losing streak that effectively kept the Waves out of contention for an NIT bid — or perhaps even an outside chance at crashing the NCAA Tournament party.
Such inconsistency punctuated Pepperdine’s 2014-’15 season. The Waves played NCAA Tournament teams like Gonzaga and Iowa tough, even upset some in the case of BYU, but suffered setbacks against such opponents as IUPUI, Portland and San Francisco.
Wilson’s veteran roster in ’15-’16 is well-equipped to avoid such lapses, having been through the ups and downs of last season.
Pepperdine’s corps starts with senior forward Stacey Davis, the Waves’ leading scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker last season at 15.7, 7.8 and 1 per game.
By leading an NCAA Tournament run, Davis can cement his name in Pepperdine basketball history alongside such greats as Bird Averitt, Doug Christie and Dennis Johnson.
Speaking of past, California collegiate greats, Lamond Murray Jr. — the son of former Cal star Lamond Murray and nephew of former UCLA standout Tracy Murray — gives Pepperdine a versatile spark off a deep and experienced bench.
Murray is the first option off the bench behind a starting lineup that returns roughly 38 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists per game between Jett Raines, Shawn Olden, Jeremy Major and Atif Russell.
Add Amadi Udenyi off the bench, who dished nearly 100 assists a season ago, and Pepperdine boasts one of the deepest lineups anywhere in the West — let alone the WCC.
For those tracking West Coast basketball, keep an eye on Pepperdine. The Waves are indeed rolling high on Malibu this season.