By Manny Nunez
Gonzaga has been the gold standard in the West Coast Conference, especially in the 17-year Mark Few era even though BYU and Saint Mary’s have been challengers, but not stalwarts. Meanwhile, Pepperdine wallowed in the depths of the league as they went nine years without a winning season until coach Marty Wilson led the Waves to an 18-15 record a year ago.
Pepperdine is trying to show that it can be a contender as for the first time in recent memory, the small Christian school on the beautiful Malibu shores, was picked to finish in the top half of the West Coast Conference, third behind Gonzaga and BYU. Led by the triplicate of Lamond Murray Jr., Jeff Raines, and Stacy Davis, the Waves are becoming a rip tide with a 7-4 record going into conference play at Gonzaga and Portland on Monday and Wednesday night.
Davis is the cornerstone of the team that is on a five-game winning streak, going into Spokane Monday. Against the UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, he picked up his third straight double-double in five games, finishing with 17 points and 12 rebounds. He and Jeremy Major worked a big second half run that helped combine for all of the Waves points in a 12-0 run that gave the Waves a 57-41 lead with just over 12 minutes to go. The consistency on offense, 18-of-34 in the second half, and 49.3 percent for the game, was a key in 79-59 win, the Waves’ strongest win of the year.
“Our message was having this team play more together,” Wilson said. “We thought offensively we were just creating for ourselves rather than our teammates. When we play together we are pretty good. I thought Major was a key to our spark of the second half. His energy and quickness gave this team a big run that we needed.”
While Murray had an off night, scoring just 10 points, it was forward Jett Raines who came through, netting a team-high 21 points as he was one point shy from a career high. The first time this year that Raines has led the team in scoring, and the fourth time in six games he has scored in double figures.
“When I score I really help the team a lot,” Raines said. “It does help take some pressure off of other guys who are having an off night. It really picked up in the second half as we worked as a team.”
The Waves win against the Ragin Cajuns marks their fifth in a row, which matches their longest winning streak in 11 seasons. It may not seem like a big deal, but the way they won against Louisiana Lafayette is a signal to the fans and alumni that this team is trending upwards as they dominated a Sun Belt Conference team that is picked in the upper half of the league and challenged UCLA in an 89-80 loss on Tuesday night. The Waves, under Wilson have always had a better standing compared to their preseason rankings, an interesting intangible that bears watching with the WCC on the horizon.
“We had an early set back this season, but we are piecing together,” said Rainers, who went 8-of-11 from the floor. “Going into conference as we are figuring ourselves out has given us some good momentum. We beat a really good team and this mentality helps us get ready for Monday. We look forward to hopefully become that strong team in the conference.”
Wilson is pleased overall with the Waves’ pre-conference season and is looking forward to seeing Pepperdine move forward into the WCC and try to challenge a Gonzaga team which, right now, is bereft of depth.
“We talked about how now we are zero and zero,” Wilson said. “We start over with our first game on Monday. We just have to focus on what we need to do and come out strong and finish just as good as we did tonight.”