Ailing Pepperdine braces for No. 7 Gonzaga (Dec 29, 2016)
Pepperdine enters its West Coast Conference opener Thursday against No. 7 Gonzaga on a seven-game losing streak and without two of its better players because of injuries.
The Waves (4-8) are also in the middle of a six-game road stretch that had them play at Louisiana-Lafayette on Dec. 20 and then at Montana two days later before a holiday break. Now they must travel north again to Spokane, Wash., to face a Bulldogs team that is off to the best start in school history at 12-0.
What is the most upsetting for Pepperdine coach Marty Wilson, who signed a five-year contract extension last year, is that the Waves must play the rest of the season without senior captain Amadi Udenyi.
The point guard tore his right Achilles tendon against Portland State on Nov. 27 and is contemplating filing for a medical redshirt. He missed most of his sophomore season as well with a torn left Achilles tendon.
"He is the heart and soul of our team," Wilson said. "His unselfish attitude on offense and his physical toughness and competitive spirit are what we miss most on the floor."
The Waves are also without sophomore forward Kameron Edwards, who broke his jaw in November. Road-weary and playing short-handed against arguably Gonzaga's best team under coach Mark Few is not a recipe for success to start the conference season.
The Bulldogs went unscathed in a nonconference schedule that included Florida, Iowa State, Arizona and Tennessee.
Although Gonzaga has its share of capable offensive players in point guard Nigel Williams-Goss and guards Jordan Mathews and Josh Perkins, its defense is what is pleasing Few the most. Gonzaga is limiting opponents to 26.7 percent shooting from behind the arc, which tops the country.
"To get this far along with all the success this program has had, it's harder than heck to do something nobody else has done before," Few said regarding the best start in program history. "To go 12-0 ... especially with the nonleague slate we had, the opponents, and even the timing a little bit (a weeklong break during final exams), was an impressive job by these guys.
"For long stretches, we have played pretty darn good defense."
Pepperdine hopes to stand up against Gonzaga's size advantage. The Waves' top rebounder is 6-foot-7 forward Chris Reyes, a graduate transfer from Utah, who is pulling down 8.1 boards a game.
Gonzaga's 7-1, 300-pound post player Przemek Karnowski leads the Bulldogs with 6.3 rebounds a game and is shooting 54 percent from the field. Perhaps his most impressive feat -- indicating his deft passing ability -- is ranking of third on the team in assists with 23.
A fifth-year senior, Karnowski was one of the few players in Gonzaga's locker room who did not want to talk much about the Bulldogs' unbeaten start after a 102-65 drubbing of South Dakota on Dec. 21 before the holiday break.
"It doesn't matter, it's game by game," Karnowski said. "The next game is Pepperdine, and we got to focus on that."
Pepperdine has an NBA hopeful in senior guard Lamond Murray Jr., one of the WCC's best players. He is averaging 19.3 points and 5.4 rebounds a game. His torrid 3-point shooting, 47.8 percent, will test Gonzaga's defense.
The Bulldogs' top NBA prospect, per some scouts, is freshman 7-foot forward Zach Collins, who can stretch the floor with his offense. He is coming off a career-high, 21-point effort while making all nine of his shots in the win over South Dakota.
"I have a great team; we're all really unselfish," Collins said. "I mean, I guess they saw I had it going and they kept trying to get me the ball. I owe it to those guys for getting me the ball."