No. 23 St. Mary’s host struggling Pepperdine (Jan 21, 2017)

The Pepperdine team that showed promise in preseason is not the Pepperdine team No. 23 Saint Mary’s will face Saturday night at McKeon Pavilion in Moraga, Calif.

The Waves were picked to finish fourth in the West Coast Conference preseason poll, but several injuries have robbed them of the personnel to compete in the 10-team WCC. While Saint Mary’s (16-2, 6-1 WCC) is in second place, behind Gonzaga, Pepperdine (5-14, 1-6) sunk to last place.

The Waves handed the Gaels their only home loss of the season last year, but will have trouble duplicating that feat this time around.

Pepperdine senior point guard Amadi Udenyi is out with an Achilles tendon injury and forward Kameron Edwards, a member of the WCC all-freshman team a year ago, suffered a broken jaw in practice before the season began and has not played at all. Those are the most significant injuries that have left the Waves with nine scholarship players.

“Night and day, we’re different,” Pepperdine coach Marty Wilson told the Spokane Spokesman Review before conference play began. “We had Amadi (for six games) and we were playing well and felt comfortable, and we were looking forward to having Kam back. Losing them was tough.”

Pepperdine started the season 4-1 with Udenyi in the lineup. Since then, the Waves have lost 13 of 14 games — the only victory in that span coming on a one-point home win over Loyola Marymount when Chris Reyes scored on a put-back with two seconds left.

The Waves’ 99-70 loss at BYU on Thursday was their fourth straight defeat and dropped their record to 0-8 in games on their opponent’s home court. The high point of that game came in the first half, when Jeremy Major set the Pepperdine record for career assists.

Pepperdine led that game with 9:34 left in the first half, but trailed by 16 at halftime.

“The second 10 minutes of the first half is where it got away from us,” Wilson said. “We gave them easy baskets, easy runouts. We had some blown assignments defensively, and we couldn’t recover after that.”

The Waves have had success against Saint Mary’s recently, however. They won three of their past four meetings with Saint Mary’s and handed the Gaels two of their three conference losses last season.

The other thing Pepperdine has going for it is the play of Lamond Murray Jr. He is averaging 20.3 points and scored at least 23 points in each of his last four games.

Maintaining that scoring average will be difficult on Saturday, because the Gaels rank second in the nation in scoring defense. They allow an average of 57.4 points per game following Thursday’s 62-50 victory over Pacific.

Coach Randy Bennett was lukewarm on his team’s play in that game, calling the overall performance, “OK.”

“We took care of the ball,” he said. “I can’t think of anything we did really well, but I can’t think of anything we did poorly either.”

Saint Mary’s opponents have been doubling 6-foot-11 center Jock Landale in the post recently, and his scoring has decreased as a result. He averaged 18.3 points through the first 15 games, but failed to score more than 10 points in any of the last three.

It has forced the Gaels to shoot more 3-pointers, and they made 13 of them against the Tigers.

“We did a great job of moving the ball around, kicking out and finding the open made,” said Gaels forward Calvin Hermanson, who had a game-high 17 points and hit four 3-pointers. “When we do that, we feel like we get in a great rhythm and shots go down.”

Saint Mary’s relies on its patience and precise execution to get good shots.

“Saint Mary’s is like Floyd Mayweather,” Pacific coach Damon Stoudamire said. “They’re like a counter-puncher. They run their stuff and they wait ’til somebody makes a mistake and then they capitalize.”