Just a few weeks ago, Santa Clara and Pepperdine were two of the hottest teams in the West Coast Conference. The Waves were rolling along as this season’s breakout team on their way to a potential top three finish, and the Broncos were coming on strong after pushing their way into the top five.
Fast forward to now, and both teams are reeling as that earlier success is a distant memory. Pepperdine has lost three straight and is a distant fourth with the potential to fall even further. Santa Clara meanwhile has lost five in a row and is now nearly as close to last place as they are to fifth place.
Both teams will desperately looking to get back on track when they meet on Thursday as just a few games are left before the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas. Despite being the superior team in record and talent, the Waves fell to the Broncos in Santa Clara earlier this season. So when they meet in Malibu, this could make for an interesting game.
Santa Clara Broncos (11-15, 5-9)
Pepperdine Waves (15-11, 8-7)
The Waves are still in pretty good shape despite their recent struggles. They control their own destiny for fourth place, and they have a season sweep over BYU that could help them reach third if the Cougars stumble to the finish line. They also get their final three games of the regular season at home where they are 8-4 including one of their BYU wins and a game where they pushed Gonzaga to the limit in a close loss, arguably one of the toughest tests the Bulldogs have faced the entire WCC schedule.
Dec 13, 2014; Tempe, AZ, USA; Pepperdine Waves forward Stacy Davis (5) drives to the basket against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the second half at Wells-Fargo Arena. Sun Devils defeated the Waves 81-74 Mandatory Credit: Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports
It’s been an interesting stretch recently for the Waves. They got a huge pair of wins on the road at Saint Mary’s and then at home against BYU, but then things suddenly went downhill. Flying high off those two wins, they were destroyed by San Diego at home followed by tough road losses at Portland and Gonzaga. They should come into this one very motivated to get this final homestand off on the right foot to regain some of their momentum heading into Las Vegas.
The Waves continue to be paced by Stacy Davis, one of the best forwards in the conference. Davis is currently 7th in the WCC in scoring and 4th in rebounding. He is backed up by breakout star Jett Raines who is 11th in scoring and 16th in rebounding. They headline a deep and talented frontcourt that is backed up by an equally talented backcourt led by Jeremy Major and Amadi Udenyi. The duo is 10th and 6th respectively in the WCC in assists.
The hallmark of the Waves has been their stout defense, the 2nd best scoring defense in the conference. They have also spent the season as one of the best perimeter defenses in the nation. Their ability to limit the shooting of opposing squads allow them to overcome their own shooting woes and focus on solid inside play. They will get opponents locked in battles inside that they cannot shoot out of against the strong defense. It’s a sound strategy that matches up well against most opponents that are weaker inside, and it’s why they have had so much success this year.
On paper, the Broncos have no business being 1-0 against the Waves this season. They are the worst rebounding and field goal shooting team in the league and in the bottom half in three point shooting. Against a team like the Waves that limit shots and forces opponents to bang inside, that should be a recipe for disaster. But they took advantage of a down shooting night by the Waves and managed to win the rebounding battle to steal a close win, although they did nearly give it away in the second half.
Jan 10, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Santa Clara Broncos guard Brandon Clark (3) brings the ball down court against the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. The Bulldogs won 79-57. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
Like last year, the Broncos are leaning on the high-scoring duo of Brandon Clark and Jared Brownridge who are 6th and 9th in the WCC in scoring. Clark is also 7th in assists as he has stepped up and put the team on his back on the way to becoming an All-WCC candidate. They don’t get much consistent support behind them, but they have a number of talented players who occasionally step up, and that support has put the Broncos over the top in a lot of close games.
A prime example is Matt Hubbard. The forward leads the team in rebounding, and he been critical to supporting the frontcourt after the loss of Yannick Atanga early in the season. He won’t put up huge numbers, but his presence inside is big in support of the high-scoring guards. He had a very useful 8 points and 6 rebounds in the upset of the Waves. Nate Kratch has also become a key inside figure, and he put up 10 points and 5 rebounds in that win.
The Broncos have two different versions of themselves, and it’s why they have been such a streaky team. If the version of the Broncos that is stout inside and has a deep and talented backcourt distributing the ball and scoring buckets, they will push the Waves again. If the entire supporting cast disappears and they get dominated inside while nobody scores except Clark and Brownridge, the Waves will have an easy victory.
More from West Coast Convo
- Get Conference News, in the New FanSided Android App
- West Coast Convo Madness: Win $500 or an Apple TV from RetailMeNot and LockerDome
- FanSided Madness: Win $500 or an Apple TV from RetailMeNot and LockerDome
- Get Instant Conference News, in the New Sports Illustrated App
- Make sure a Conference fan is crowned Fan of the Year
This won’t be a repeat of last time. Unfortunately, the version of the Broncos that is shallow in depth and weak inside shows up a lot more than the complete version. The chances they get their best version twice against the talented Waves is slim. Perhaps the advantage inside won’t be as large as it has been in some games, but it will still be an advantage.
The outside shooting will be ugly as it was in the first game. So the motivated Waves will be able to focus on their inside play and let Davis and Raines do their thing. If the Waves shoot even slightly better than they did last time against the Broncos, it’s a different ballgame. They will, and it will lead to a confident victory that should get the Waves back on track.
Pepperdine – 72
Santa Clara – 64