When most people think of Malibu, California, they think of a sanctuary for Hollywood’s stars, beautiful beaches, and multi-million dollar houses. The simple drive from Los Angeles to Malibu is remarked as the most scenic 30 minute drive in America. Over the past few months, something else has been happening in Malibu that has gained some of the nation’s envy. The town’s local small Christian college, Pepperdine, has a men’s basketball team that is making other school’s fan bases jealous. This stigma does not drive from the fact that their campus was the set for Nickelodeon’s hit TV show Zoey 101. It’s because they now have celebrities like hip-hop artist, Drake, regularly attending their games. In the past, the jealousy may have stemmed from the fact that their arena is located less than one mile from the ocean. This year, it’s because of the basketball talent that is now running up and down the court could end up being a real life Hollywood drama come March.
The 2015-16 version of Pepperdine’s men’s basketball team is head coach Marty Wilson’s best during his tenure. The Waves are loaded with experienced veterans, led by senior standout Stacy Davis. Davis, a two time All West Coast Conference (WCC) selection, is averaging 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Pepperdine currently touts a 14-8 record (7-4 in conference), holds an RPI ranking of 97, and a sparkling undefeated record at home.
The Waves recently came off a big home win over the BYU Cougars on January 23rd. The Waves showed a resilient effort, fighting back from a 38-25 halftime deficit. They defeated the Cougars at their home arena, Firestone Fieldhouse, for the third straight year. NBA on TNT analysis, and basketball Hall of Famer, Reggie Miller, was even in attendance to witness the stellar game. In addition, the Waves defeated the first place St. Mary’s Gaels on January 9th in a thriller, 67-64. In that game, Waves guard, and friend of Drake’s, Lamond Murray Jr., had a career day scoring 24 points while Davis had a double-double, dropping in 17 points and adding 10 boards.
Wins against teams like St. Mary’s and BYU have Pepperdine on the cusp of taking the next step. Marching into the second half of conference play, Pepperdine has been playing their best basketball. After a rough start, dropping their first two conference games on the road, the Waves have surged to the top of the WCC. Since the turn of the calendar year, the Waves have been rolling, winning seven of their last nine, and during this stretch, have watched Drake jump on their bandwagon. Over the last nine games, the Waves are averaging 74.8 points and have shot 46.25% from the field. On the defensive end the Waves have held opponents to shoot a paltry 42.2% from the floor, while only allowing 68.1 points per game. The Waves have been resurgent, playing with a lot of energy. Coach Wilson’s squad have received contributions from their bench, specifically junior point guard Amadi Udenyi. Udenyi has dished out 25 assists while turning the ball over just four times in as many games.
With six games remaining on the schedule, the Waves trail conference leading St.Mary’s by two and a half games. Pepperdine returns home this week, after splitting their two-game road trip last week against San Diego and BYU. Pepperdine garnered a convincing 76-58 win in San Diego, but the Waves could not conquer the hostile environment in Provo, as they fell to the Cougars 88-77. The loss at BYU knocked Pepperdine down to 4th place in the conference standings. However, there is still much hope in Malibu, as the Waves will have an opportunity to bounce back at home against Portland on Thursday. On Saturday, the Waves will face Gonzaga in a nationally televised home game on ESPN2 (10PM EST start). The Waves have a 9-game home winning streak, and are 8-0 at the Firestone Fieldhouse this season. The Waves have historically been dominated by the Zags, losing their last 30 consecutive contests against them. The Waves will hope to extend their home court excellence, while ending an era of subordination towards the Bulldogs.
At the beginning of the year, Gonzaga was the team predicted by experts to run away with the WCC. However, teams like BYU and St. Mary’s have proved they will be strong challengers. Pepperdine has the opportunity to force themselves into this discussion by winning the next two games. A Pepperdine upset against the Bulldogs on Saturday would be one of the biggest storylines during Super Bowl Weekend. This Pepperdine team has played brilliantly at home, and the Waves have the potential to shock the country this weekend. If the Waves can sustain their level of play, they to will compete for the WCC regular season and tournament championships.
It’s been over 20 years since Pepperdine has heard their name announced on Selection Sunday. Their last NCAA Tournament appearance was a 78-74 loss to Michigan. This appears to be the best team Pepperdine has had in over a decade, but will the Waves play well enough down the stretch to end their 22-year tournament drought? They are talented enough, but the road will not be easy. There is no chance Pepperdine will receive an at-large bid, so the pressure will be on them to win their conference tournament in Las Vegas to receive an automatic bid. The Waves are going to be an interesting team to watch coming down the stretch. The citizens and surfers of Malibu are amped about Pepperdine basketball. Don’t be too surprised when they start turning heads. And when they do, we can’t accuse Drake of hopping on the bandwagon too late.