News of the latest in a long line of key player injuries did not damage team morale. In fact, it seems to have inspired the team to take responsibility for its own improvement.
Fears of a Wave collapse seemed well-founded early on, as the Gauchos raced to a quick 9-2 lead. However, Pepperdine maintained composure and answered with a 12-2 run of its own. Neither team led by more than seven for the remainder of the first half, and the Waves led 38-32 at the break.
Pepperdine widened its lead to eleven points in the second half, but the Gauchos were not going quietly. UCSB nailed four straight three-pointers and drew within 65-63 at the 2:45 mark.
The Waves made free throws down the stretch, until Johnson missed the second of two with the lead standing at 70-66. The mad dash for the rebound ended in several players rolling on the floor; when the Gauchos felt they had gained control, they quickly signaled for timeout in an effort to retain possession with 13 seconds to play.
They were out of time outs.
Mike Westphal stepped to the line and hit both resulting technical free throws, giving the Waves a more comfortable six-point margin. A late layup cut the Gaucho deficit to four, but their rally ended there.
In the absence of Kimble and McGowan, rebounding had been the Waves' most troubling deficiency. They turned things around on this night, outboarding the Gauchos 39-33. Miggins and Boomer Brazzle led the rebounding charge, but it was a team-wide commitment to crashing the boards that made the difference. Most notably, the Waves grabbed 18 offensive boards after getting just one in Fullerton.
Each Wave made an important contribution, starting with the three players who are expected to shoulder the load. Johnson paced the team with 21 points. Miggins added 17 and nine rebounds, while Brazzle scored 13 to go with his eight boards.
But all nine active players stepped up their play. David Patten got the start in the first action of his career, and the freshman responded with veteran-like composure, contributing two points and four rebounds. Alex Acker lacked the shooting touch that netted him 19 points on Wednesday, but he did have four points and a team-leading five assists. Derrick Grubb, Dustin Johnson, Patten, and Robert Turner handled the inside Kimble/McGowan minutes by committee.
Mark Hull led UCSB with 18 points, while Nick Jones stepped up with 17 points and nine rebounds. Freshman guard Cecil Brown impressed with 13 points in 15 minutes.
With Montgomery out, the Gauchos employed a full-court press virtually the entire game. Interestingly, the primary ballhandling responsibilities fell to Miggins, who played "point forward," a relatively new basketball term perfected by Scottie Pippen and Grant Hill in the NBA's 1990's. Miggins played the full 40 minutes, had the ball most of that time, and faced constant pressing and trapping. It was a gritty performance by the Senior, who may yet be the Wave most likely to take control of the team's personality.
The sudden focus on rebounding was indicative of a very new attitude for the Waves. Whether they were taking the early schedule too lightly, or feeling overconfident with all the preseason national press they received, or distracted by the Will Kimble situation, or some combination of the above ... the first four games featured sloppy, often uninspired play. Defensive intensity and pure will to win seemed to be sorely lacking. The new attitude seemed to originate with Miggins, who likely had a long heart-to-heart with Coach Paul Westphal after their public argument in Fullerton.
Perhaps Montgomery's injury solidifed in his teammates' minds the importance of playing hard, fundamental basketball. Too often in previous games, the Waves seemed to believe they could win on talent alone. Entering this game with only seven scholarship players available may have been exactly what they needed to get over that assumption.
Montgomery suffered the thumb injury late in the Fullerton game when Pape Sow fouled him on a drive with 4:36 to play. He made both free throws and finished the game ... Montgomery is out indefinitely as the team plans further evaluation of the injury in the coming days ... Freshman guard Chase Griffin was activated to take Montgomery's place on the roster. Griffin saw no action, so his redshirt status is still intact ... Senior forward Dustin Johnson played a career-high 13 minutes. He collected four rebounds, all offensive, with three of them coming during one memorable sequence late in the first half, drawing a standing ovation from the crowd for his efforts ... Pepperdine leads the "War by the Shore" series 37-30, including winning seven of the last eight. That lone recent loss was a 68-51 thumping at the Thunderdome last season. The Gauchos have not won in Malibu since 1994.