Pepperdine Coach Lorenzo Romar’s mixture of transfers and youth may have lacked cohesiveness at times but the Waves’ overall talent was too much for UC Santa Barbara on Saturday in the season opener for both teams.
Pepperdine scored the first 10 points of the game and then relied on its defense to overcome offensive lapses and defeat UC Santa Barbara, 71-51, before 1,915 at Pepperdine’s Firestone Fieldhouse.
With four Division I and two junior college transfers on the roster, the Waves showed why many consider them to be the class of the West Coast Conference after finishing second last season.
Guard Jelani Gardner, a transfer from California two years ago and one of three Pepperdine seniors, led the way with a game-high 19 points and six assists. Sophomore forward David Lalazarian, a transfer from Notre Dame, added 14 points, and senior center Marc McDowell, a transfer from Mesa (Ariz.) Community College, came off the bench for 12 points and seven rebounds.
“I liked the energy we had at the beginning but then we fell into some type of funk,” said Romar, a former UCLA assistant who led the Waves to a 17-10 record last season, his second at Pepperdine.
“We’ve been finding ourselves. [It’s difficult] with so many new faces trying to mesh together. Even in practices, we go through phases when we’re not doing anything right.”
For Bob Williams, UC Santa Barbara’s first-year coach who took over for Jerry Pimm during the off-season, his Gaucho coaching debut got off to a horrible start when the Waves ran off to a 10-0 lead.
B.J. Bunton (16 points) and Josh Merrill (10 points and 10 rebounds) tried to get the Gauchos back in the game, but Pepperdine’s defense would not allow them to get closer than four. Gaucho guard Brandon Payton, brother of NBA all-star Gary Payton, was held to eight points.
“The potential for us is unlimited,” Gardner said of the Waves’ prospects this season. “We have talent and we play hard, the two main ingredients of a quality team.”