Plenty to be thankful for

Surviving one of the nastier season-opening schedules it's faced in many years, Pepperdine entered Saturday night's home opener with a 3-1 record despite flying over 5,000 miles for their first four games. Still, one blowout loss and three shaky wins left the Waves feeling they had something to prove to doubters. <p><p> After Saturday's performance, any lingering doubts were destroyed as convincingly as #17 Wisconsin was, as the Badgers fell, 75-61.

Glen McGowan was a one-man wrecking crew in the first half, scoring 19 of the team's 34 points, including four three-pointers.

But the senior forward got plenty of help when the Waves (4-1) broke the halftime tie with a 25-4 burst, putting the game away midway through the second half and running their winning streak to four games.

McGowan's season-high 29 points led the way. Alex Acker's game was just as impressive, flirting with a triple-double before finishing with 17 points, nine rebounds, an seven assists. Jesse Pinegar and Yakhouba Diawara contributed eight points apiece.

As convincing as the victory was, the coaching staff will have plenty to work on as the season progresses. The Waves gave up 17 offensive rebounds while collecting only 17 defensive boards. Teams don't generally win games when the opponent rebounds half of its misses. They got away with it this time by forcing 22 turnovers and by holding the Bagers to a dismal 3-17 shooting from beyond the three-point arc (18%).

Alando Tucker led the Badgers (2-1) with 18 points and seven rebounds on 9-11 shooting. He was having his way with the Waves' defense until Keith Jarbo entered the game as a defensive stopper. Jarbo's sole assignment was to deny Tucker the ball, and he did so admirably.

The most noticeable improvements over last year's Waves are defense, chemistry, and depth. Of course, they all go hand in hand. Defenders can gamble more, knowing there are capable reserves in case they get in foul trouble. The team can play more presses and traps, knowing they can afford to get some guys winded. All the players know they can trust each other to rotate defensively and know their roles on both ends of the court.

Having overcome their most imposing early-season opponent, the Waves are nicely positioned for an outstanding start to the season. The current homestand, also featuring UC Santa Barbara, Azusa Pacific, and UNLV, gives the Waves a chance to fatten their record to 7-1 by the time the Fall semester ends.

They must, however, guard against a letdown after a high-profile win. For evidence, they need look no farther than Conference rival Santa Clara, who upset #3 North Carolina and then lost to the University of the Pacific.