Pepperdine and No. 22 UCLA meet Friday in San Diego following very different results in their season openers.
The Bruins (0-1) — tabbed for the Top 25 after winning seven of their last eight to close the 2019-20 season, and returning a veteran corps for 2020-21 — suffered what coach Mick Cronin called a “total regression” in their 73-58 loss to San Diego State on Wednesday night.
“We are not a collection of lottery picks,” Cronin said in his postgame press conference. “We have to be physical. We have to be tough. We got taught a lesson tonight.
“My message to (the team) is that obviously I didn’t get the job done,” he added.
Pepperdine (1-0), meanwhile, went to work earlier on Wednesday in the same arena where UCLA lost. The Waves beat UC Irvine, 86-72, in a matinee at Viejas Arena in San Diego.
Preseason All-West Coast Conference selection Kessler Edwards scored 20 points in the win, while fellow all-league nominee Colbey Ross added 13 points and dished eight assists.
Ross and Edwards are the cornerstones of a veteran Pepperdine squad with designs on competing in the top-heavy West Coast Conference.
The Waves showed flashes of brilliance in their 16-16 run in 2019-20, including near-misses against Pac-12 foes Southern California and Arizona. They also took WCC juggernaut Gonzaga to the wire in Spokane, Wash.
“Even though we had our moments and had our opportunities, we just weren’t quite good enough to get over the hump last year,” Pepperdine coach Lorenzo Romar said at WCC media day. “This year, with the majority of our guys back (and) more experienced, we would think we’d learned our lesson from some of those games were weren’t able to pull out at the end, hopefully we will be able to pull out.
“That would make an entirely different season for us,” Romar added.
His team plays an uptempo offensive style. The Waves ranked 85th nationally last year in adjusted offensive efficiency, per KenPom.com metrics. Ross set the table with the eighth-highest assist rate among Division I players.
Ross matches up with UCLA point guard Tyger Campbell, who ranked 44th nationally in assist rate in 2019-20. Campbell runs the show for an offense that ranked 51st in adjusted efficiency.
Against San Diego State, however, the Bruins sputtered with the ball, shooting just 39.5 percent (17 of 43) from the floor. UCLA’s hope for improvement starts with interior scoring threats Chris Smith and Cody Riley, who shot a combined 6 of 14 on Wednesday.
“We have to do a better job of sharing the basketball,” Cronin said. “In 5-on-5, somebody has to be willing to get somebody else open with a screen or a pass. That is the key.”
–Field Level Media