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Saint Mary's hosts Pepperdine in critical WCC match-up

Two teams with methodical offenses and strong defenses meet Thursday night in Moraga. Pepperdine's title hopes may have been dashed but Saint Mary's is still alive and just a half game behind Gonzaga.

Pepperdine and junior point guard Jeremy Major are on a three game losing skid.
Pepperdine and junior point guard Jeremy Major are on a three game losing skid.
Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Pepperdine Waves (14-10, 7-6) at Saint Mary's Gaels (19-3, 10-2)

When: Thursday, February 10 at 8 p.m. Pacific
Where: McKeon Pavilion, Moraga, Calif.
Watch: CSN Bay Area, ROOT Sports Northwest and ROOT Sports Rocky Mountain.
Online: Streaming live on TheW.tv.
Last meeting: Pepperdine won 67-64 in Malibu on January 9, 2016.

Recent stumbles have knocked both the Waves and Gaels off the pace in the WCC, which makes Thursday's game in Moraga all the more important for both squads.

Saint Mary's has just two losses in conference play and both have come on the road, with one of those coming at Pepperdine's Firestone Fieldhouse. Like the Waves, the Gaels aren't the same team on the road that they are at home. Saint Mary's best-in-the-nation offense — the Gaels rank first in both field goal percentage (51.4%) and assist to turnover ratio (1.87) — was unable to get going when these two teams last met. Pepperdine's stout defense held the Gaels to just 40.7% shooting from the floor.

Don't expect a repeat performance.

The Gaels are a perfect 15-0 at home this season. Fans at McKeon Pavilion, with the exception of an aberration against Utah Valley on December 28, have been treated to some ridiculously efficient offense. That Utah Valley game aside, the Gaels have scored at least 1.2 points per possession against every challenger except Gonzaga (who saw a disgraceful 1.187 points per possession).

Containing that outrageous offense will be job number one for the Waves, who are looking to stop a three game losing streak from turning into a four game tailspin. Though it must be said that two of those three defeats were to teams above them in the standings (88-77 at BYU and 69-66 vs. Gonzaga).

While down from last season's third-in-the-nation mark, the Waves are still one of college basketball's better teams at defending against the three (opponents average just 31.8% this season). Saint Mary's hit just seven of 24 attempts in the last meeting. Pepperdine's pair of point guards do a great job in that respect, especially reserve Amadi Udenyi (3.9 ppg, 4.4 apg).

While Udenyi comes off the bench to lead the Waves in assists it's Jeremy Major (8.8 ppg, 3.9 apg) who holds the starting job. Against Gonzaga the junior point guard passed head coach Marty Wilson for ninth on Pepperdine's career assist list.

Those two make the Waves' controlled style of offense go, even though it runs through guys like Lamond Murray Jr. (15.6 ppg), Stacy Davis (15 ppg) and Jett Raines (12.7 ppg).

Saint Mary's also has a two-headed point guard monster, but both of the Gaels' PGs are in the starting five. Emmett Naar (13.5 ppg, 6.2 apg) and Joe Rahon (10.4 ppg, 6.3 apg) give opposing defenses fits with their interchangeability. With those two running an exceptional offense it's easy to overlook the defense.

Which is strange, considering they're second nationally in scoring defense (59.3 ppg).

Saint Mary's seems to be the overwhelming favorite. But this Pepperdine squad has already knocked them off once this year, and last year in Moraga, too. The Gaels' strong defense is a factor of their ability to ruthlessly control the tempo of games, limiting possessions and crashing the glass. But, that slow tempo is exactly what a methodical Marty Wilson coached Waves team likes.