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Inside College Basketball | SOUTHLAND REPORT

Pepperdine Aims for Gonzaga

March 04, 2004|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

In a season full of potholes and roadblocks, Pepperdine never pushed Gonzaga or made any kind of threat to challenge for the West Coast Conference title. Then again, neither did anyone else.

But the talented and enigmatic Waves used the second half of the conference season to put themselves in a position to make things interesting in the conference tournament that begins Friday in the Leavey Center at Santa Clara. Pepperdine is the third-seeded team and will get a first-round bye before playing Loyola Marymount or Portland in Saturday's second round.

Pepperdine Coach Paul Westphal said he believes his team can meet the fourth-ranked Bulldogs in the final Monday night.

"All of our goals are still attainable," Westphal said. "We finished tied for second in our league, which is the most anybody can realistically expect. That doesn't mean we can't beat Gonzaga.

"We have a chance to win a couple of games and beat them in the one that counts."

The eligibility issue with forward Yakhouba Diawara, who sat out the first 17 games while the NCAA reviewed his case, was a major distraction. Diawara, a muscular 6-foot-7 forward from France, has been a force since being cleared to play, averaging 18.5 points and 6.3 rebounds. Pepperdine is 8-4 with him in the lineup.

Moreover, the junior has meshed with forward Glen McGowan, the team's other main scoring option inside.

"Glen and [Yakhouba] respected each other's game," Westphal said. "Both are versatile enough inside to where they're not bumping into each other."

Team chemistry has been another issue. Westphal has repeatedly changed his starting lineup, stressing that he has had his full roster for only two games. There was also the suspension of point guard Shaun Davis, whom Westphal sent home because of his conduct after a game against Gonzaga.

Westphal said redshirt freshman Marvin Lea has earned the starting spot but won't hesitate to use Davis, depending on the situation. "He's still understanding [what I want], but I don't think he's quite there yet," Westphal said of Davis.

With all its troubles, Pepperdine (14-15, 9-5 in WCC) won a season-high five in a row before losing the tournament's No. 2 seeding to St. Mary's, which made 31 of 41 free throws, all in the second half of a 104-95 victory Sunday. St. Mary's won the tiebreaker by virtue of its sweep of San Francisco; Pepperdine split with the Dons.

Had the Waves won, they would have earned a berth into the semifinals. Westphal was kicked out with 4 minutes 24 seconds left.

"I was asking about all the free throws but I didn't stay around long enough to get an answer," he said.

*

Cal State Northridge Coach Bobby Braswell reinstated junior guard Joseph Frazier and junior forward Chris Davis on Tuesday after suspending the two Jan. 16 for violating team rules on a trip to Idaho. Braswell originally suspended both for the season but the two have been practicing with the team.

Frazier averaged 12.1 points and 4.0 rebounds and Davis averaged 11.1 points and 4.6 rebounds. Braswell hasn't indicated if the former starters will play tonight against UC Riverside or Saturday against Cal State Fullerton.

"Throughout the six-week suspension period, both Chris and Joseph have continued to exhibit a deep level of remorse and unwavering support of their teammates," Braswell said in a statement. "It is my belief that they have grown greatly from this experience and thus deserve an opportunity to finish their junior seasons with their teammates."

*

(Begin Text of Infobox)

Success Story

Every season since 1997-98, Gonzaga has advanced to the WCC tournament championship, winning four times. A look:

1997-1998

San Francisco 80, Gonzaga 67*

1998-1999

Gonzaga 91, Santa Clara 66*

1999-2000

Gonzaga 69, Pepperdine 65 (OT)*

2000-2001

Gonzaga 80, Santa Clara 77**

2001-2002

Gonzaga 96, Pepperdine 90**

2002-2003

San Diego 72, Gonzaga 63**

* -- at Santa Clara; ** -- at San Diego.

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