Pepperdine Conquers Cal State Northridge and Fullerton

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Stacy Davis squares up for a jump shot against the Cal State Northridge Matadors.

With a daunting West Coast Conference schedule looming ahead in the near future, the Pepperdine men’s basketball team is making the most of its non-league slate in a convincing fashion. Just ask the Big West Conference.

Two double-digit victories last week, including a 10-point win at home, have propelled the Waves to a 5-1 record, their best start in 10 years. Behind a stellar defensive effort at Firestone Fieldhouse last Thursday, Pepperdine knocked off Big West foe Cal State Northridge, 66-56, and followed suit with another solid performance two days later in a 74-62 win at Cal State Fullerton.

Pepperdine last defeated CSUN in 2005 and its last victory against CSUF was back in 2002. Meanwhile, all five of Pepperdine’s victories this season have been by double-figures. The Waves lone loss (72-61) occurred at Iowa, a member of the Big 10 Conference.

Last season, the Waves went 15-16 overall and 8-10 in the WCC (fifth place), showing maturity and growth in a program that has been stuck in neutral over the last decade. Coach Marty Wilson and his squad have now put the pedal to the metal, focusing on grit to overcome the lack of any seniors on the team.

“Defense and toughness. That’s what it is all about. Hopefully it will be that way throughout the year,” Wilson said. “But we have to be more aggressive offensively. We need Jeremy [Major] to use his speed and to show his speed where people fear it and to have Stacy [Davis] make his presence known down low one-on-one.” 

Major, a sophomore point guard, scored 10 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished out four assists while Davis, a preseason All-WCC selection and first-team All-WCC honoree last year, recorded a double-double with 11 points and 13 boards in the victory against the Matadors.

Junior guard Atif Russell scored a career-high 19 points on 5 of 6 threepoint field goals vs. CSUN, sparking a 13-0 run that broke an 18-18 tie and sent the Waves into halftime up 31-20. Against Fullerton, Russell pumped in 18 points as his hot shooting ignited  the team in both games.

“It sparked our team and motivated our team,” Wilson said about Russell’s outside touch versus CSUN. “When he got into his rhythm, it helped us open up the game.”

Pepperdine drilled 11 of 21 (52.4%) three-pointers against CSUN and 9 of 18 (50%) versus Fullerton. On the defensive side of the ball, the Waves, who are ranked first in the country in defending three-point shooting, held the Matadors to 0 for 11 behind the three-point arc and holding the Titans to 3 of 20 shooting from downtown.

“We wanted them to shoot threes because we knew that wasn’t their strong suit,” said Wilson of CSUN’s shooting woes.

The most impressive statistic thus far on the young season for Pepperdine, and a positive sign of more wins to come, is the amount of assists that the Waves are accumulating.

Making the extra pass and displaying an unselfish style of basketball that would make basketball purists proud, the Waves had 18 assists on 20 baskets against Northridge and 16 on 25 buckets versus Fullerton.

“We need to continue to be unselfish as a team and to turn a good shot into a great shot. I thought we did that,” Wilson said. “That shows our team is playing for each other. 

“We don’t have any guys who are out for themselves. They know what we demand. If a team is taking you away and your teammate is open, get it to them. Collectively, they enjoy each other. They trust each other with what they are going to do with the ball.”

The Waves feature zero seniors, four juniors, four sophomores and seven freshmen.

Davis, a junior forward, averages 14.5 points per game and 8.7 rebounds per game. Junior forward Jett Raines (12.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg) and Major (11.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg) lead the way with Russell (9.8 ppg), freshman Shawn Olden (9.5 ppg), sophomore Amadi Udenyi (7.0 ppg) and sophomore Lamond Murray Jr. (4.7 ppg) also contributing. 

Pepperdine plays at Arizona State on Saturday before returning to Malibu to host South Alabama on Dec. 15 and Howard on Dec. 17. Games are at 7 p.m. both evenings. West Coast Conference action heats up beginning Dec. 29 at rival Loyola Marymount.