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Pepperdine Streaks Toward UCLA

December 09, 2004|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

Potential distractions seemed to surround the Pepperdine basketball team like a suffocating full-court trap entering Wednesday night's game against a talented Nevada Las Vegas squad.

The beginning of the week had the Waves' coach, Paul Westphal, being talked about as a top candidate for the opening at USC. The end of the week offers a showcase game against UCLA at Pauley Pavilion.

Pepperdine, however, kept its focus on the task at hand, building a 24-point lead in the second half and then holding off the pesky Runnin' Rebels for an 86-78 victory in front of 2,674 at Firestone Fieldhouse.

The Waves (7-1) stretched their winning streak to seven games and matched their best start since 1985-86. The only time they wavered was in the second half, when UNLV closed to within seven points but never got closer.

Forward Glen McGowan said the fact that Westphal, a USC alumnus, is being mentioned as a successor to Henry Bibby isn't going to bother this team.

"I don't think it's going to be too big of a distraction," said McGowan, who had game highs of 27 points and 13 rebounds. "Whatever happens next year, happens next year. Right now, we've got a job to do."

Pepperdine took control late in the first half behind the play of reserve point guard Kingsley Costain. Costain made three consecutive three-point baskets during a 13-0 run and finished with a career-high 19 points.

With the energetic crowd already at fever pitch, Robert Turner's dunk off a feed from McGowan right before halftime punctuated the big surge, and Pepperdine took a 48-31 lead into intermission.

"We got some great performances off the bench in both the first and second half," Westphal said.

"We got a big lead, and we were able to hold it tonight. The press caused them a lot of trouble, and [Turner] was a key guy in that."

Pepperdine held the Rebels (2-3) to 39.7% shooting and forced 17 turnovers.

UNLV, led by Odartey Blankson's 22 points and 10 rebounds, got close by making 23 of 30 free throws.

Alex Acker had 16 points, eight rebounds and six assists for the Waves, who are beginning to think big.

"I think we found what was missing [last year], and that was defense," Acker said. "Guys are sharing the ball. Sometimes, it looks beautiful on the court."

Pepperdine last faced the Bruins in Westphal's first season three years ago. The Waves won, 85-78, at Westwood en route to a 22-9 season and an NCAA tournament appearance.

"It's a tough thing, going into Pauley Pavilion," Westphal said.

"We've got a veteran team, and we should be able to handle it."

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