"We're two players away from being a pretty good basketball team," Pepperdine basketball Coach Jim Harrick was saying before his team left for Milwaukee to play in the Marquette tournament.
On Friday, the Waves (3-6) open against South Florida (1-4). Host Marquette (5-2) meets Columbia (4-2) in the evening's second game. The championship and consolation games will be played Saturday evening7.
Pepperdine snapped a six-game losing streak Monday night, defeating UC Santa Barbara, 93-88. After that victory, the Waves, who have been weak at point guard and center, may be just one player away from being good.
Both the Waves and the Gauchos made a lot of mistakes, but Harrick corrected some of his team's errors when he gave more playing time to his son Jim at point guard.
Harrick has been rotating his guards, trying to find someone to take charge of the offense. He thought that experienced junior Marty Wilson would be his top ball handler this year, but Wilson injured his back before the season, hasn't played and may not return till early January, if then.
Another player who was expected to help, 6-10 freshman center Antonio Martin, a former member of Spain's junior national team, is recovering from pre-season knee surgery and may not be ready until mid-January.
In the first half against Santa Barbara, Waves scoring leader Eric White was held to two foul shots, and he was contained largely because Pepperdine's guards weren't getting the ball to him when he was in scoring position.
But Pepperdine's guards, particularly Harrick, began executing the offense better in the second half, and White scored 17 points in the period to help the Waves pull out the victory.
Harrick played 23 minutes against the Gauchos, more than he has in any other game this season. His father said that his son, who had six assists and seven points, can expect to get more playing time in Milwaukee and probably later. He said he has a young team that has been "trying to get an identity. It helped us (Monday night) to find out whom we need to go with."
"Jim is smart," he added. "And the fact that he knows our system and executes it better than anyone else frees up our other guys to shoot the ball."
South Florida, a member of the Sun Belt Conference with Old Dominion, Western Kentucky, Jacksonville and Alabama Birmingham, was 5-9 in conference play last season and 14-14 overall. The team is led by 6-8 senior center Doug Wallace, who is averaging 15.2 points and eight rebounds a game. Its only win has been over Cincinnati.
Marquette won four straight at home to start its season, defeating Wisconsin, Lehigh, Iona and Tennessee. The Warriors then went on the road and lost to Northwestern and Bradley.
Marquette's top scorer is 5-11 junior guard Michael Sims (17.7 point average) and its leading rebounder is 6-6 senior forward David Boone (6.8 average). Boone, a San Francisco native, played his first two years with St. Mary's, a member of the West Coast Athletic Conference.
Leading scorers for Columbia are 6-1 senior forward Sean Couch, who is averaging 21.7 points a game, and 6-2 sophomore guard Matt Shannon with a 17.7-point average.
Pepperdine returns Tuesday, when it plays host to powerful DePaul at 8 p.m. at Firestone Fieldhouse.