Pepperdine, which has thrown a scare into Southern California’s two national basketball powers this season, will give UCSB its last test before Big West Conference basketball play.
The Gauchos (3-1), who suffered their first loss of the season last Saturday at Loyola Marymount, will visit the Waves (4-3) today for a 3 p.m. contest.
“I think they’re one of the best teams on the West Coast,” UCSB coach Joe Pasternack said. “They should’ve beaten both UCLA and San Diego State. They were up on San Diego State the entire game.
“It’ll be good for us to get this one under our belts.”
Pepperdine, which lost to the 18th-ranked Aztecs 65-60, also took the Bruins into triple-overtime before losing 107-98. It does hold victories over California and defending Big West Conference champion UC Irvine.
The Waves, coached by Lorenzo Romar, have one of college basketball’s most explosive offenses, averaging 83.9 points per game on 49.6% shooting.
“This is a great, great challenge for us, to play a team like that this early,” Pasternack said. “I think it’s really going to show where we are and what we need to work on.
“Pepperdine is a totally different team than Loyola, and they post a lot of different problems than Loyola. We’re going to be going up against two NBA picks. It’s going to be a great opportunity to see how to defend somebody like that.”
Point guard Colbey Ross and forward Kessler Edwards give the Waves one of college basketball’s most potent one-two punches.
Ross, a 6-foot-1 senior, is on the National Player of the Year Watch Lists for both the Wooden Award and Naismith Trophy. He’s also on the Bob Cousy Award Watch List as one of the nation’s top point guards. He’s already set school records for both points (1,904) and assists (702). He’s averaging 20.1 and 7.9 in those categories this season.
Edwards actually leads Pepperdine in scoring at 20.4 points per game, shooting 53.7% overall and 47.1% from the three-point line. He’s also tied for seventh all-time in blocked shots at Pepperdine.
“We played against Colbey Ross our first year here,” Pasternack said. “He’s an NBA player, from what I’ve been told by NBA people. I’ve heard the same about Kessler Edwards.
“It’ll be a big challenge for us. And it’s not about one person, but about having a great team defense.”
UCSB is hoping for a big game from its own NBA prospect, 6-9 junior Amadou Sow. He’s been held below last year’s averages, scoring 13.7 points per game and getting just 4.0 rebounds. His 10 turnovers are the most of any Gaucho.
Pasternack takes some of the blame for Sow’s sub-par games against LMU.
“I could’ve put him in a better position,” he said. “But credit to Loyola Marymount for doing a great job on him and having a great game plan.
“People forget that we just haven’t had a lot of time and games against other people. It’s going to take some time. But Amadou will be just fine. He’s just got to focus on rebounding and defending and everything else will take care of itself.”
UCSB split last week’s two games against LMU, Pepperdine’s rival in the West Coast Conference. The Gauchos won the first game at the Thunderdome, 69-58, but lost Saturday’s rematch in Westchester, 81-76.
“Basketball is a game of mistakes, and the team that makes the fewest mistakes wins,” Pasternack said. “You can’t hold a team to 59 points and then let them score 81 a few days later if you’re not making a lot of mental mistakes.
“I think we’d all like to get that LMU game back. We didn’t do what we do, and follow our rules, and that really cost us.”
UCSB has been led by 6-4 senior JaQuori McLaughlin (16.3 points, 5.3 assists, and only two total turnovers).
“JaQuori is a great player — a total player — and I think that he’ll keep getting better and better as the season goes along,” Pasternack said. “I’m really, really happy with how he’s playing.
“But I think he’d be the first to tell you that he had a couple of tough mistakes in the last Loyola game, as did a lot of other guys.”
The Gauchos do have a lot in reserve with such back-ups as sophomore Ajare Sanni (12.0 points), senior Robinson Idehen (8.0 points, 6.8 rebounds), and sophomore Josh Pierre-Louis (8.8 points).
“We’re experimenting with different lineups now — that’s what the preconference is for — so we’ll keep doing that,” Pasternack said. “The goal is to be playing at our best in March.”