Cub Scouts Hits the College Road
But, to Malibu?
by Cub Buenning
When a late-December game takes place on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, you know you are in the heart of college basketball. Right?
Christmas came a couple days early for us at Cub Scouts as we took a break from a Southern Californian family holiday to take in an intra-conference match-up between the home Pepperdine Waves and the visiting Runnin’ Utes of Utah. The game pitted two teams with early season struggles looking for one last chance to “get right” before the grind of their respective conference schedules.
The 2008-2009 Mountain West Conference regular season champs, and an NCAA-tournament team, the Utes are far different from last year’s installment. Gone are several key components of that squad including guard Tyler Kepkay and the Aussie mountain in the middle, Luke Nevill. Still around for Jim Boylen’s team are the talented backcourt of 6-5 Serbian senior point Luca Drca and the rugged, but effectively smooth play of junior Carlon Brown.
On the other hand, the Waves of the West Coast Conference (annually dominated by Gonzaga) are led by sophomore scoring sensation, Keion Bell, who made major notoriety this fall with the YouTube release of him dunking over 5 of his buddies. (For real, check this out, if you haven’t yet been versed.) Bell is partnered by junior swingman Mychel Thompson, the son of the former Laker and older brother of Klay, who is lighting it up for Washinton State. Another ex-NBAer’s progeny, Dane Suttle Jr. (whose dad of the same name is Pepperdine’s all-time leading scorer) has emerged as a third threat.
(In a crowd of just under a thousand, it was a current NBAer that got the attention of several in attendance, as Clipper center, Chris Kaman decided to venture through Topanga Canyon to take in a college game on an off-day. The 7th-year player couldn’t have been more gracious and took a few minutes to talk about the game and the holidays. (Seems Utah’s assistant Jeff Smith was one of Kaman’s at Central Michigan and had invited him to the game just minutes from the Staples Center.)
While the home team never seemed able to salt away a game they led throughout, the Waves were able to finally put away the Utes, winning 76-64.
The home team was the aggressor from the opening tip, making one successful foray to the hoop after another. Without the services of the departed Neville and an injury to current 7-3 monster, David Foster, the middle of the paint was wide open, much to the delight of the driving Waves players. Buoyed by the early interior advantage, Pepperdine sped off to an early 30-13 advantage.
The key players for both teams showed up on this night, as well as a young baby-faced guard for Utah by the name of Marshall Henderson. The 6-2 freshman from Texas (seemed to be a surprising number of Texans on the Utah roster) was a threat to score from everywhere on the court and his play early in the second half was instrumental in the Utes staying within range.
But whenever the visitors from the SLC pulled to within a couple baskets it was the LA-kid Bell that proved the difference, as he turned his first-half passivity into second-half fury. The 6-3 guard drove the ball with fervor and ease, netting 13 of his 17 points in the game’s second 20 minutes, predominately from drives to the hole and the slew of subsequent free throws (where he hit 9-10.) Bell was also omnipresent on the stat sheet as the high-flyer not only grabbed an impressive 9 boards, but also snagged 3 key thefts on the defensive end. The Waves were led by Thompson’s 25 and got some gutsy contributions by point-guard Lorne Jackson (18 points) and big man Corbin Moore (9 pts and 13 rebounds).
The Utes were paced by Brown’s 21 and Henderson’s 20, but were unable to establish consistent scoring down low and were hampered by shooting just 32 percent from behind the arc.