National Invitation Tournament : Pleased Pepperdine Opens Against New Mexico State

Times Staff Writer

Pepperdine is pleased to be playing in the National Invitation Tournament. New Mexico State isn’t.

So tonight’s first-round game at New Mexico State’s Pan American Center may determine which plays better, a happy team or an angry one.

Pepperdine Coach Tom Asbury said: “We are excited that our basketball season has been extended (by) at least one more game.

“The prestige that our program has developed and our tough schedule were probably big factors in helping us earn a spot in this year’s NIT.


“It turned out to be a banner year for the (West Coast Athletic Conference), with Loyola Marymount and St. Mary’s going to the NCAAs and (Pepperdine) and Santa Clara returning to the NIT.”

Pepperdine (19-12) finished the regular season in a second-place tie in the WCAC with Loyola. The Lions earned an automatic bid to the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. tournament by defeating Santa Clara in the tournament final. St. Mary’s, the regular-season conference champion, received an NCAA at-large bid.

The Aggies (21-10) lost to Nevada Las Vegas last Saturday in the final of the Big West Conference tournament, 68-62. But New Mexico State Coach Neil McCarthy believes that his team should be in the NCAA tournament with the Rebels.

“We finished second in our conference, second in our conference tournament,” McCarthy said. “We were overachievers all year. We won 12 of our final 16 games, and two of those (games) were very respectable losses to UNLV. I feel disappointed that we didn’t get in.”

The Aggies lost conference games to the Rebels this season, 75-73, at home, and, 79-58, at Las Vegas. In December, UNLV routed Pepperdine, at Las Vegas, 88-56.

Johnny Roberson, a 6-foot 8-inch forward, leads the Aggies with averages of 14.3 points and 7.3 rebounds a game. Pepperdine is led by All-WCAC forwards Tom Lewis, who is averaging 16.4 points and 5.3 rebounds, and Dexter Howard at 16.3 points and 7 rebounds.