No. 4 Pepperdine Waves (18-12, 10-8) vs. No. 1 Saint Mary's Gaels (26-4, 15-3)
When: Monday, March 7 at 6 p.m. Pacific
Where: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas
Marty Wilson probably didn't build his team with this purpose, but if there's a team in the WCC built to beat the Gaels it's Pepperdine.
The Waves might have eight more losses this season than top seeded Saint Mary's, but that number would be ten if these two teams hadn't already played each other twice. Pepperdine swept Saint Mary's this season and accounts for fully half of the Gaels' stumbles.
For the vast majority of the season the Gaels have led the nation in field goal percentage (50.9%) thanks in large part to their dual point guard attack of Emmett Naar (13.9 ppg, 6.2 apg) and Joe Rahon (10.3 ppg, 5.8 apg). Both Naar and Rahon were named to the all-WCC First Team and Rahon, a junior transfer from Boston College, took home WCC Newcomer of the Year honors.
Those two were pressured heavily by LMU in the quarterfinal round and as a result the Gaels spent much of the game playing from behind.
Pepperdine is a far more defensive-minded team and their two point guards, Jeremy Major (9.8 ppg, 3.8 apg) and Amadi Udenyi (4.5 ppg, 4.5 apg), rank third and 13th respectively in steal rate in WCC play. They will pose a much stiffer challenge than the Gaels saw on Saturday.
"We're a defensive team," Marty Wilson said after the quarterfinals. "We want to hang our hat on that, so our guys understand that if we're not playing defense the way we want to ... that's a problem."
The Waves can't match Saint Mary's with two first teamers, but they come close in the frontcourt. Senior forward Stacy Davis (15.4 ppg, 9 rpg) was the WCC Newcomer of the Year as a freshman and has been named to the all-WCC First Team each year since. He's joined up front by all-WCC Honorable Mention Jett Raines (13 ppg) and all-freshman teamer Kameron Edwards (7.3 ppg).
So the Waves have the talent up front, but they don't have the depth.
Saint Mary's has five bigs in the rotation led by stretch forward Calvin Hermanson (11.6 ppg) and all-conference honors super-snub Dane Pineau (11.1 ppg, 8 rpg) who holds the fourth highest offensive rating in the WCC and 33rd highest in the nation. Where Pepperdine can not afford to get into foul trouble the Gaels have an embarrassment of riches.
Marty Wilson will tell you his team doesn't have a specific style of play, but both of these teams play slow, methodical basketball. Per KenPom's average possession length rankings the Gaels are the seventh slowest team in the nation and Pepperdine sits much closer to the slow than fast end of the spectrum. In that sense, they're similar. In their best skills, though, they're opposites. Pepperdine's defense is outstanding and the Gaels offense is elite. The winner will likely be the team that performs better on their weaker end of the floor.