Unfortunately for those in Malibu, Pepperdine and winning streaks have not been heard in the same sentence in a while.
In fact the last time Pepperdine won three or more straight games prior to this season was in the 2009-10 season and that was a three-game streak to begin West Coast Conference play. But five games into this season, Pepperdine already has a three-game win streak and could make it longer with two games on the road this week.
“The streak has them feeling good, not overly excited,” Pepperdine head coach Marty Wilson said. “Part of my deal and our deal as a staff is to keep them focused and keep them hungry… They continue to have the right mindset, the right focus to get better. And that’s our only goal, to get better every day.”
Wilson, who played for Pepperdine between 1985 and 1989, took over a program that had not had a winning season and had not finished higher than sixth in the WCC since 2004-05, so there was lots of work to do.
Now it looks like they may be making some headway and it has been highlighted by the team’s defense. They have had 36 or more rebounds in all but one of their games and has not allowed a team to shoot better than 45 percent.
“Guys are going to do what you demand and what you work on and our first two games we weren’t defending,” Wilson said. “And that was something that didn’t sit well with me. Our teams are always going to be known as a team that takes pride in defense. We emphasize it a lot more and our guys have carried over. They’re playing harder. Our younger guys are understanding our concepts and our principles, our defensive principles, and are applying them.”
The Waves got a boost from just guys being healthy.
Moriba De Freitas, who missed last season, has been a catalyst for the Pepperdine defense and that has not gone unnoticed by Wilson or his teammates.
“He’s got great timing on blocking shots and rebounding and that’s what he does,” Wilson said. “He’s the anchor of our defense. He’s very, very vocal, defends very well on the ball screens, has a high basketball IQ. That’s something of great value to our whole team. Some of our younger guys are starting to pick up on that.”
Fifth-year senior Lorne Jackson also fell into the category of guys who missed last season. Jackson was primed to go into last season as Pepperdine’s leading scorer but an ALC tear in the summer derailed his season. After struggling for the first couple of games, Wilson spoke with him about being the senior leader they needed.
“We had to challenge him after the first two games,” Wilson said. “He was turning the ball over. He was making bad decisions. He was playing too fast and the transition, we was going one-on-three, one-on-four.”
“As a fifth-year senior, he can’t make those mistakes,” he said. “I took him out of the lineup for two games, we won those two games, but he was still a big part in those games. He made possibly the play of the game that saved us against Washington State on the defensive end.”
But his focus was shown on the offensive end as well and he scored a career-high 27 points against UC Irvine, following back-to-back overtime wins.
“I think being in those close games, the Washington State game, the Houston Baptist game, I think it helped us with the [UC] Irvine game,” Wilson said. “It will continue to help us throughout the rest of the year.”
Sure it’s only a three-game streak in the middle of November but every team has to start somewhere and Pepperdine is doing the right things to win.
Follow Zack Farmer on Twitter: @Zack_Farmer