BYU Cougars (14-6, 5-2) at Pepperdine Waves (12-7, 5-3)
When: Saturday, January 23 at 5 p.m. Pacific
Where: Firestone Fieldhouse, Malibu, Calif.
Watch: BYUtv and streaming live on BYUtv.org.
It's three versus four Saturday evening in Malibu, and those numbers mean a little more than just where these teams sit in in the WCC Standings.
Pepperdine swept the Cougars last season —only 2012 Saint Mary's, 2013 Saint Mary's and 2013 Gonzaga have swept BYU during a regular season series since the Cougars joined the WCC for the 2011-12 season. And the Waves have won three of the past four games against BYU. Saturday evening they'll be going for a third straight in the series, which is an amazingly balanced 9-7 all time in favor of the Cougars.
BYU, having defeated Gonzaga last week before erasing whatever good for their résumé that did by falling last Saturday at Portland, should be fully in must-win mode for the remainder of the season if they want any shot at consideration for a third straight at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
These two teams are nearly stylistic opposites. Pepperdine plays slow, controlled and defensive basketball while BYU runs and guns but often neglects the defensive end — in the Cougars last game they allowed Loyola Marymount to go on a 20-0 run and score 50 first half points.
Pepperdine, overall this season, has a pedestrian offense statistically, but the Waves have been improving steadily over the course of conference play. That trend will need to continue Saturday because it's hard for any team to keep up with the Cougars when they're firing on all cylinders.
Kyle Collinsworth continues to fill the stat-sheet for the Cougars, recording his NCAA record tenth career triple-double on Thursday against LMU. Standing 6-foot-6 at the point guard position he has no problem crashing the boards and driving smaller defenders into the paint.
Playing alongside sharpshooters like Chase Fischer (18.4 ppg), who has hit five or more threes in five games this season, and Nick Emery (15 ppg), whose 49 made three pointers is a BYU freshman record, Collinsworth has plenty of options when he's looking to pass the rock.
Those perimeter threats will test the once-vaunted but inexplicably downtrodden Waves' defense.
Last season Pepperdine's third-in-the-nation three point defense held BYU in the mid-to-low twenty percent range from distance in two meetings. This year the Waves' defense hasn't been the same, despite all starters and key reserves returning.
However, the Waves are undefeated at home and have a penchant for playing to the level of their opponent — first place Saint Mary's boasts the nation's best shooting offense but was stopped in its tracks, the Gaels only conference loss this season, earlier this month in Malibu.
For Pepperdine the ball goes from point guard Jeremy Major, who is on pace to finish atop the Waves' career assists list despite not even leading the team in assists this season (that would be the team's best defender, reserve point guard Amadi Udenyi who averages four per game) into all-WCC senior forward Stacy Davis (13.9 ppg) or electric junior wing Lamond Murray Jr. (15.7 ppg).