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Davis Arrives as Clutch Performer at Pepperdine

February 11, 1988|STEVE HENSON | Times Staff Writer

The magic moment. The coming of age. The point when potential finally evolves into peak performance. Most successful athletes experience it and never forget it.

For Pepperdine's Craig Davis, it happened last season in the unlikely town of Spokane, Wash., in the home gym of an unlikely school called Gonzaga, with stands full of fans who didn't like Davis and loudly made their feelings known.

Davis, a guard out of Hueneme High, was having a typical season for a freshman--inconsistent with flashes of excellence. He had scored 20 points against UCLA at Pauley Pavilion before more than 11,000 people in his third collegiate game but was held scoreless in the Waves' next game against Long Beach State.

Pepperdine was having less than a banner year itself, finishing seventh in the West Coast Athletic Conference. The Waves had to visit Gonzaga, the second-place team, in the first round of the WCAC tournament.

Davis had scored only one point in an 84-70 regular-season loss at Gonzaga, missing all nine of his shots. Pepperdine took the floor for the tournament game and the local fans immediately reminded Davis of his earlier dismal outing.

"Gonzaga is an adverse place to play and Craig hadn't been to places where they really ride you," Pepperdine Coach Jim Harrick recalled.

Davis missed his first shot and let an air ball fly moments later. He was 1 for 5 in the first half and appeared flustered by the attention.

"They were really riding him hard by then," Harrick said, "I told him at halftime, 'Hey, keep shooting.' "

Shoot Davis did. And the shots fell in torrents. With taunts ringing in his ears, he rung up 26 points in the second half, including six free throws in the last 30 seconds as Pepperdine won, 76-73. For the first time, Pepperdine had ridden Davis--the Wave of the future--to a victory.

"I put everything aside and concentrated," Davis recalled. "After that, I felt like I could handle any type of situation."

That includes predicaments like last weekend at the University of San Francisco, where Pepperdine found itself caught up in a furious pace amid hostile fans. Helped by 18 points from Davis--including four three-point baskets in the second half--the Waves finally ran by the Dons, 94-91, to remain two games behind Loyola in the WCAC race.

The Waves have looked toward the 6-foot, 3-inch, 165-pound Davis for game-winning shots on several occasions this season, a compliment considering Pepperdine also has one of the top outside-shooting forwards in the nation in sophomore Tom Lewis.

In a 91-89 win over UC Irvine on Dec. 1, Davis made a game-winning 16-foot jump shot with six seconds to play. "It was a designed play where I come off a screen. No one stepped up and the shot went in," he recalled.

In a 63-61 win over McNeese State on Dec. 12, Davis improvised a 15-foot baseline shot with 18 seconds to play while blanketed by a defender to give the Waves a 62-61 lead. "They ran a zone. I went baseline and their center tried to block the shot. I brought it up under his arm," Davis said.

The former high school center has adjusted well to his role as shooter. Davis, whose teammates call him CD, is averaging 15.7 points a game and leads the WCAC in three-point shooting (48.2%). His overall shooting percentage is 49.4.

Harrick, the only coach who offered Davis a scholarship, fairly bubbles over with praise about the guard, who scored 23 points against DePaul and 20 against Arizona this season.

"Unlike 90% of the players, Craig doesn't need to gather before he shoots. He might be better given a fraction of a second to shoot, but he doesn't need it," said Harrick, who is in his ninth season at Pepperdine. "He's already a tremendous offensive player, one of the best guards on the West Coast."

Challenges await Davis, however, and his next magic moment may be the first time he takes a charge in a key situation or dribbles the ball out of trouble with the game on the line. Improving his defense and ballhandling are necessary before he can be called a complete player.

And an injury to Marty Wilson, Pepperdine's point guard and best defensive player, has put Davis' improvement on the fast track. Wilson, a junior from Simi Valley High, hurt his left knee two weeks ago at Portland.

In fact, Harrick already has issued a challenge.

"Craig has to pick up the slack defensively," Harrick said. "He ought to be ready to step up and raise his level of defense to the major role of stopping somebody. We're pinning that on Davis. He can do it; he's as fundamentally sound a defender as I've coached at Pepperdine."

Davis acknowledged that the time has come to concentrate on both ends of the floor.

"I guess I'll have to play some defense now," he said, laughing.

Besides having to defend opposing teams' best offensive guard, Davis has to bring the ball upcourt more often and pass to the open man. Previously, Wilson did most of the ballhandling. Harrick believes the added responsibility will make Davis a better player.

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