Lions' Goal: End a Wave of Success : Pepperdine Is Nearing the Conference Record for Consecutive Victories

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pepperdine Coach Tom Asbury was more than a little skeptical last month when the West Coast Conference record for consecutive basketball victories became a topic of conversation on the Malibu campus.

"I never thought it was very realistic," Asbury said. "Our streak was around 18, 19 games, and the players started talking, 'Let's go get it.' I thought they were nuts."

Considering that the record is 31 games, set by the Bill Russell-led University of San Francisco teams from 1954 to '57, Asbury's conservative stance was understandable.

But no longer.

With the Waves riding a 27-game conference winning streak, Asbury acknowledges that the record is within reach as Pepperdine prepares to meet Loyola Marymount at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Gersten Pavilion.

But he knows the Lions would like nothing better than to end the streak. Loyola handed Pepperdine its last WCC road loss, 131-116, on Feb. 14, 1990. Since then, the Waves have won 17 consecutive WCC road games.

"Certainly a major stumbling block could be Saturday night," said Asbury, whose four-season record of 44-9 at Pepperdine is the best career mark in WCC history. "But we're not going to jump off a bridge if we lose.

"We try to use (the streak) as a positive thing. It gives us a tangible goal every night. We try to build on it. You can't keep it away from the players. It's there every time we go out on the court."

Pepperdine (18-6) leads the conference by three games with an 11-0 record and has clinched at least a tie for its second consecutive WCC title. A Wave victory or loss by second-place Gonzaga (18-6, 8-3) will secure the No. 1 seeding for the WCC tournament March 7-9 at the University of Portland.

Loyola (13-11, 6-5), which has won five of its last six WCC games, is a game behind Santa Clara for third place and has a shot at second place. The Lions play their last three WCC regular season games at home.

Loyola, perhaps looking ahead to Saturday night's game, lost to Cal State Northridge, 102-95, Tuesday night in its final nonconference game. The Lions made only three of 12 free throws compared to 21 of 32 for Northridge.

Despite Tuesday's setback, Coach Jay Hillock has been encouraged by the Lions' play of late, most notably overtime victories last week on the road against Santa Clara and the University of San Diego.

"We're playing better," Hillock said. "We're starting to do the little things, the intangibles."

Loyola extended Pepperdine in last month's meeting in Malibu, forcing nine lead changes and six ties before the Waves pulled away late in the game for a 94-84 victory. The Lions played without guard Terrell Lowery, who was serving a one-game suspension imposed by Hillock for disciplinary reasons.

With Lowery, Hillock said Loyola is capable of creating more problems for Pepperdine. The senior leads the WCC with a 26-point scoring average.

"With Terrell we have more depth, more firepower and a better press," he said. "His presence on the court, because he requires more defensive attention, makes it easier for other guys to score."

Asbury, though, said Pepperdine will not prepare any differently knowing that Lowery will play this time.

"I know Terrell is their best player, but I don't know how much better they would have played with him (in last month's game)," he said. "They will play the same way with or without Terrell.

"It's not like they need an emotional burst. I don't think anyone needs an emotional burst when they play us. . . . Odds are that the game is for nothing but local pride, but certainly if I were (Hillock), I'd come after us big time, and he will."

Lowery, who scored a season-high 41 points Saturday night in a 104-102 double-overtime victory at San Diego, said Loyola can beat Pepperdine if it takes care of the ball and rebounds well against the taller Waves.

"Everybody is really anxious to break their winning streak," Lowery said. "We feel like we have the personnel to do it. I'll try to do whatever I can to enhance the team's chances of winning."

Small forward Rahim Harris played well last week for Loyola, averaging 17 points on 70% shooting, three rebounds and four steals in two games. He was only six of 15 shooting from the floor Tuesday against Northridge, however.

Geoff Lear, Pepperdine's 6-foot-8 power forward, was named WCC player of the week after averaging 21.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in victories over San Diego and Santa Clara. Lear, guard Doug Christie and forward Dana Jones are the leaders for the Waves, but Hillock is more concerned about Pepperdine's supporting players.

In last month's game, reserve forward Steve Guild and reserve guard Rick Welch each made two three-point shots to turn back Loyola rallies. Guild finished with 17 points.

"It's guys like Welch and Guild that have hurt us," Hillock said. "We have to contain them."

Still, it is Pepperdine's inside strength that most concerns Hillock. The Waves out-rebounded Loyola, 39-30, in the last meeting.

"The critical factor is rebounding," Hillock said. "Everybody has to do a job on the boards. That's where Pepperdine has hurt us."

Notes

Loyola reserve forward John O'Connell, who did not play Tuesday against Northridge, is questionable for Saturday night's game because of an injured hand. . . . Pepperdine Coach Tom Asbury complained this week that Pepperdine's West Coast Conference winning streak doesn't get the media attention in Los Angeles that it does in other cities. "When we go on the road, it's a monster of a thing," he said. "In the Bay Area and anywhere else, it's a much bigger deal. We'd have to win 131 (games) in a row for anyone to pay attention in L.A. . . ." Pepperdine leads the overall series with Loyola, 59-51, and has won the past four meetings. The Lions lead the Waves in WCC games, 40-36. . . . Pepperdine guard Doug Christie is third in the WCC in scoring (18.8), assists (5.0) and steals (1.9). . . . Loyola completes its WCC regular season at home next week against Gonzaga (Feb. 28) and Portland (Feb. 29), teams that swept the Lions in the Northwest last month.

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