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Pepperdine Patches Together Its Success

March 22, 2003|Mike Terry | Times Staff Writer

Ask Mark Trakh to assess his team's basketball season and the Pepperdine coach just smiles.

The biggest achievement for the 22-7 Waves was neither winning 20 games for a sixth consecutive season nor claiming the regular-season and tournament West Coast Conference championships.

Rather, it has been the ability for Pepperdine to put a competitive team on the floor.

The Waves, who will play at Louisiana Tech on Sunday in the first round of the NCAA women's West Regional, have used more ice bags and Ace bandages this season than some teams do in several years. For spans leading up to and during the season, Trakh has been without guards Shandrika Lee, Damaris Hinojosa, Tamara McDonald and Alicia Komaki, and forwards Shannon Mayberry, Jennifer Lacy and Kelsey Ball.

Yet somehow the Waves, who will have nine players available Sunday, come to Ruston, La., a relatively hot team, having won 14 of their last 16 games.

"Whatever combination of players we had out there, the kids have stepped up," Trakh said. "We had a lot of mixing and matching to do. But it's funny, our only conference losses were to San Francisco, and someone wrote those losses were 'inexplicable.' I thought going 22-7 was inexplicable -- in a positive way."

Pepperdine's season had other rough spots. Connecticut routed the Waves by 61 points in December, and Stanford pummeled Pepperdine by 33 in January. The Waves had USC on the ropes at home but lost in the final seconds.

Still, Pepperdine never used injuries as an excuse.

"The UConn game could have destroyed us psychologically," Trakh said. "But they are tough kids. They went through the wringer a lot last year. But last year we learned how to play well in big games, how to make big shots. You've got to learn that.

"We've learned how to win the conference, learned how hard you have to prepare to win the conference tournament. Now we have to take it one more notch and learn how to win in the NCAA tournament."

The Waves lost in the first round last year, to Villanova.

Pepperdine, seeded 12th, has a difficult entrance exam. Louisiana Tech, ranked sixth in the nation, and champion of the Western Athletic Conference, is miffed at being seeded fifth despite a 29-2 overall record and a 27-game winning streak -- the longest in Division I.

"Obviously we felt like we deserved a higher seed and did everything possible to deserve a higher seed," Coach Kurt Budke said. "However, we're still playing at home and are playing some of our best basketball of the year right now."

The Lady Techsters are led by 6-foot-3 senior center Cheryl Ford, who averages 15.5 points and 12.8 rebounds, and 6-2 junior forward Trina Frierson, who averages 14.6 points.

Louisiana Tech is further motivated by last year's first-round 57-56 loss to UC Santa Barbara.

But the Waves have learned from a 67-46 NCAA first-round loss to Villanova last season too.

"Last year we were very confident. [But] we know much more about Louisiana Tech, and there is more excitement knowing we're playing one of the top teams," senior forward Anna Lembke said. "And we've been through so much adversity ... we're just plowing through another day at a time."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Women's NCAA Tournament

EAST REGIONAL

* Today at Constant Convocation Center, Norfolk, Va.: Boston College (20-8) vs. Old Dominion (21-10), 8:10 a.m.; Vanderbilt (21-9) vs. Liberty (26-3), 30 minutes after Game 1.

* Today at Mackey Arena, West Lafayette, Ind.: Virginia Tech (21-9) vs. Georgia Tech (20-10), 8:14 a.m.; Purdue (26-5) vs. Valparaiso (18-12), 30 minutes after Game 1.

* Sunday at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, Conn.: Connecticut (31-1) vs. Boston University (16-14), 9:06 a.m.; Michigan State (17-11) vs. Texas Christian (19-13), 30 minutes after Game 1.

* Sunday at Bramlage Coliseum, Manhattan, Kan.: Arizona (22-8) vs. Notre Dame (19-10), 4:06 p.m.; Kansas State (28-4) vs. Harvard (22-4), 30 minutes after Game 1.

MIDEAST REGIONAL

* Today at the Coors Events & Conference Center, Boulder, Colo.: North Carolina (27-5) vs. Austin Peay (27-3), 6:18 p.m.; Colorado (22-7) vs. Brigham Young (19-11), 30 minutes after Game 1.

* Today at Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tenn.: Tennessee (28-4) vs. Alabama State (20-10), 8:06 a.m.; Virginia (16-13) vs. Illinois (17-11), 30 minutes after Game 1.

* Sunday at the Lloyd Noble Center, Norman, Okla.: Villanova (25-5) v. St. Francis, Pa. (23-7), 3:36 p.m.; George Washington (24-6) vs. Oklahoma (19-12), 30 minutes after Game 1.

* Sunday at the Bryce Jordan Center, University Park, Pa.: South Carolina (22-7) vs. Chattanooga (26-4), 9:10 a.m.; Penn State (24-8) vs. Holy Cross (24-7), 30 minutes after Game 1.

MIDWEST REGIONAL

* Today at the Pit, Albuquerque: Mississippi State (23-7) vs. Manhattan (20-9), 6:14 p.m.; New Mexico (22-8) vs. Miami (18-12), 30 minutes after Game 1.

* Today at Stegeman Coliseum, Athens, Ga.: Rutgers (20-7) vs. Western Kentucky (22-8), 8:18 a.m.; Georgia (19-9) vs. Charlotte (21-8), 30 minutes after Game 1.

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