If a strong front line is Loyola Marymount's Achilles' heel, then Pepperdine could leave the Lions limping when both teams open West Coast Athletic Conference basketball play at 7:30 tonight at Loyola.
Loyola (8-7), riding a three-game win streak, will start freshmen Mark Armstrong and Mike Yoest at forward alongside center Steve Haderlein, the tallest of the three at 6-7. The majority of Loyola's scoring will come from guards Keith Smith and Steve Haney. Smith ranks among the nation's scoring leaders at 25.1 points per game, with Haney second on the team at 13.4.
Pepperdine (11-6) surfs into Gersten Pavilion on a five-game win streak, its longest in two years, and its front line is the talk of the WCAC. Eric White, 6-8, is averaging 14.6 points and 9.4 rebounds and is shooting 53%; Anthony Frederick, 6-7, is averaging 13.4 points, has 43 blocked shots and is shooting 55%; 6-7 Levy Middlebrooks is averaging 11.9 points and 6.9 rebounds and is shooting 58%.
By comparison, Haderlein is the Lions' only front-court player scoring in double figures, at 10.6.
Add in the potent back court of point guard Jon Korfas (12.7 points, 5.1 assists, 55% shooting) and the offense's catalyst, Dwayne Polee (15.9 points, 4.9 assists, 49% shooting) and you have five of the top 15 scorers, the top two foul shooters--Korfas at .843 and Polee at .842--and three of the top eight rebounders. The Waves lead the WCAC in shooting, scoring, rebounding and assists.
Middlebrooks, a 225-pound freshman who was expected to move into the starting lineup but has exceeded all hopes, leads the conference in shooting. Frederick, a Gardena native who transferred from Santa Monica College, was expected to be an inside force but has surprised the Pepperdine staff as an effective perimeter jumper.
Polee, playing his first full season at guard, has paced the Waves; when he plays well the team seems to play its best. Polee, the former Los Angeles City player of the year at Manual Arts, has been wearing contact lenses lately and they seem to be working; he has shot 8 for 12 and 7 for 9 in his last two games. At 6-5 he has also been the Waves' most effective guard defensively.
All of which doesn't mean anyone expects a runaway.
Style of Play
Loyola tends to play up or down to the competition. Smith is coming off two straight 33-point games which earned him WCAC player of the week honors and he too tends to play best in important games. The junior has scored more than 30 points four times and 28 or 29 in another four games this season and has passed 1,000 for his Loyola career. If he maintains his pace he will break the school season scoring record.
Haderlein has played the best games of his career against Pepperdine. And with three freshmen in the lineup the team hustles.
Pepperdine holds a 49-45 series edge and has won 12 of the its 15, but the teams split last year, each winning on the other's court.