People say it's hard to beat the same team three times in a row. Pepperdine learned it's harder to do it four times in a row.
Saint Mary's came to play from the opening buzzer. Their best-in-the-nation offense shot 57.4% from the field to guarantee their first trip to the WCC final since 2013. Randy Bennett's Gaels were balanced on the offensive end with four players reaching double figures, led by point guard Joe Rahon's 18. They were also impressive on the defensive end, especially against Stacy Davis (8 points, 7 rebounds), the Waves' all-time leading scorer.
We wanted to make sure we did a good job there, Bennett said. "Davis is one of the best players in the league... You have to have the right guy to guard him."
Turns out Dane Pineau (16 points, 9 rebounds) was that guy.
The Waves got blitzed immediately and never recovered. Pepperdine made just five of its first 16 shots compared to the Gaels 12 of 16 start. Davis had recorded five straight double-doubles but came up well short of tying the program record with a sixth tonight. The Waves have improved in every season under Marty Wilson, but tonight they weren't ready to give him and the program its first trip to the final since 2002.
"Disappointing thing is our mindset," Wilson said.
Saint Mary's built their early lead with a number of early threes, which would also disappoint Wilson considering he's built the Waves into one of the nation's best at defending on the perimeter.
After the break Joe Rahon put up an airball on the first possession and the Waves applied some full court pressure. It took a while to work, because even as the Waves opened up 4-4 from long range, two each from Lamond Murray (20 points) and Jeremy Major (13 points) they weren't really able to close the gap.
They managed to eventually turn the Gaels' 24 point lead into a manageable ten point gap but went cold after that. The seniors didn't step up like they were fighting for their NCAA Tournament hopes. In fact, the only Waves in double-figures were juniors. Amadi Udenyi (13 points) joined Murray and Major in that category. That should be some comfort to Wilson, who looks to continue his trend of yearly improvement next season. But for now, with an 18-13 record, he's still focused on this year.
"We know this isn't the last game we're going to play," Wilson said.
Saint Mary's knows they're not done, either. The Gaels await the winner of the WCC's other semifinal between No. 3 BYU and No. 2 Gonzaga. They'll play the winner at 6 p.m. Pacific Tuesday for the WCC Tournament title.