WCC Tournament Quarterfinals Preview: #4 Pepperdine vs. #5 San Diego


In a tournament featuring ten seeded teams, you would expect the #4 vs. #5 matchup to be one of the most even and hotly contested early games. That will very much be the case in Las Vegas when the Pepperdine Waves face the San Diego Toreros in the quarterfinals on Saturday. The two boast many similarities, and they both have had similar overall seasons even though they are each riding different waves of momentum right now.

Feb 26, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; San Diego Toreros center Jito Kok (33) puts up a shot against Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

If this meeting was taking place a few weeks ago, it would be no contest that the Waves would take it. Boasting the best perimeter defense in the nation and one of the best frontcourts led by star Stacy Davis, they rolled through the first half of conference play with little trouble looking like they would compete for a top three finish. But now, things have changed drastically. After back-to-back upsets of Saint Mary’s and BYU, the Waves skidded to a 2-4 finish that dropped them to the #4 spot and probably would have dropped them even further if the teams behind them hadn’t suffered rough patches.

One of the teams that was enduring a rough patch was San Diego. The Toreros looked downright awful through the first half of conference play showing a lack of depth and terrible shooting that canceled out most of their strong defense led by WCC blocks leader Jito Kok. But as the Waves cooled down, the Toreros heated up, and it both runs ironically started in the same game. Coming off their two upsets, the Waves hosted the Toreros at home in what looked like it would be an easy win for the Waves.

The Toreros had started improving, but they were still struggling coming off a bad loss to Loyola Marymount. The Waves also had claimed the earlier meeting at San Diego already by a comfortable 59-47 margin. But despite all that, the Toreros went into Malibu and had one of their finest games. San Diego had the better defense that day as they forced 19 turnovers. The Waves also had an uncharacteristically bad time with their perimeter defense as the Toreros shot 42.1% from three point range and stormed to a 72-50 victory. The margin of defeat was the largest of the season for the Waves, even bigger than the ones in their losses to Gonzaga.

The Toreros hit a number of teams at the finish so their record doesn’t reflect it, but they have been rolling since that win. They pushed Saint Mary’s to the limit in double overtime, and they convincingly won at Portland to in their regular season finale to claim the 5th place and set up this rematch with the Waves. With momentum on their side and the memory of that blowout win still fresh in the memories of both teams, this matchup in the quarterfinals should be a good one.

Despite everything, the Waves are still the superior team in terms of talent. Davis will be the best big man on the court, and Jett Raines will likely be the second best. Amadi Udenyi and Jeremy Major will pace the backcourt and look to prevent the San Diego shooters from having a repeat of their last meeting. The Waves are a very complete team, and they have plenty of interior offense to support their defense and cancel some of their long range shooting issues.

The Toreros do however have a lot of answers for the Waves as we saw in the last meeting. Kok is a blocking machine who will make very hard inside for Davis and Raines, and big Brandon Perry and the aggressive Thomas Jacobs will help the Toreros in the rebounding game. If the Toreros win the rebounding battle like they did in the last meeting and limit the Waves inside, they could roll to another victory as the Waves just don’t have the shooting to counter that.

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The Toreros have quietly had a very strong defense, so their success has been due to the emergence of additional offense. Unlike the Waves who get their points inside, the Toreros boast strong shooting and good slashers who drive inside from the backcourt. Johnny Dee is a deadly shooter, and he has been backed up in a big way recently with the resurgence of Duda Sanadze and the emergence of freshmen Vasa Pusica and Marcus Harris. They will gladly let Davis and Raines do work inside and hope that Kok and company just limit them enough for them to win it with their advantage in the shooting game.

This one probably will be closer than the last one with two good defenses going at it, so the Toreros need a strong defensive effort since they can’t expect to get the same point total. But they still have an advantage with their newly discovered depth. Dee, Sanadze, and Pusica should hit double figures while Jacobs, Kok, and Perry get rebounds inside. Anderson will have a game-high in assists as the Toreros shoot often enough to overcome the perimeter defense of the Waves.

Davis and Raines will get their numbers, but it should be another very poor day of long range shooting for the Waves which will be their downfall. After what was a very good season, expect the Waves to fall in a close one for a quick exit in Vegas. The Toreros will march on with even more momentum as they hope to shock Gonzaga in the semifinals.