Oct. 30, 2006
MALIBU, Calif. - Following the program's fourth trip to the NCAA Championship Tournament a year ago, the Pepperdine women's basketball team has high expectations as it enters its third season under head coach Julie Rousseau.
The Waves return four starters from last year's squad, including two All-West Coast Conference (WCC) first team selections in senior Jasmane Clarendon and junior Daphanie Kennedy. Pepperdine also returns 11 lettermen and with the addition of what some scouting services have tabbed as the 19th-ranked recruiting class, it is no wonder why the league's coaches picked the Waves as co-preseason favorites to win the program's fifth conference crown and first since 2002-03 this season.
After being the youngest team in the WCC last season, Pepperdine returns a wealth of experience into the 2006-07 campaign. Six different athletes have started more than 10 games in their career, with nine having seen action in at least 20.
Experience and depth on the perimeter and in the post is what makes this team different this season, but the one-two punch of Clarendon and Kennedy should help Pepperdine's efforts, as both were chosen by conference coaches as members of the top six returning players this season. Kennedy came into her own during the Waves' magical run to `The Dance' as the Oakland, Calif. native earned WCC Tournament Most Valuable Player honors. Her performance was exceptional as she broke down some of the most talented defenders against Oklahoma in the NCAA Tournament last year and dropped in a career-high 31 points in the program's first NCAA tournament game since 2002-03. One of just two seniors, Clarendon earned a spot on the WCC's All-Tournament team but sat out the NCAA championships due to injury.
At 11 points per game, Kennedy opens Pepperdine's 32nd season of play ranked 19th all-time. With 61 career three-point field goals made, Kennedy is also poised to make a run at fellow teammate, and senior, Lauren Wenski's 10th-place mark of 69. A native of Lenexa, Kansas, Wenski begins her final season at Pepperdine third all-time in free-throw percentage, shooting .831 from the charity stripe in her first three seasons as a Wave and is always a big threat from the outside to stretch defenses and open the block for the Waves' post play.
Senior, Clarendon (San Bernardino, Calif.) led, or co-led, the Waves in scoring a dozen times during her junior year and, baring injury, will be looked upon to add to her 11.5 points per game during the 2005-06 season. Joining Clarendon at forward will be returning junior Teiosha George. George (Palmdale, Calif.) ended her sophomore season third on the team in scoring at just under nine points per game, while her career 5.8 rebounds per contest ranks 18th in school history. The dynamic post duo will need to show great leadership on the block this year and improve on their combined efforts of tabbing over 11 rebounds per game and over 20 points per game. After seeing some action last year, sophomores Alisha Bryant (Pocoima, Calif.) and Dana Huley (Pasadena, Calif.) have worked hard to improve their skills and should make more contributions at the post position. Throw into the mix newcomers talented newcomers like Miranda Ayim (Ontario, Canada) and Teena Wickett (Oakland, Calif.) and Pepperdine could have a very tough front court.
Although play on the block will be an area of strength for Pepperdine this season, the team's success will directly correlate with the play of its guards. Shannon Johnson saw the lion's share of the duties at the point by running the majority of the Waves' offense last season and has shown great maturity by taking care if the ball in crucial situations. Look for Johnson to contribute more offensively this year as well. Jessica Ross's production showed continued improvement as the season progressed. One of the most consistent shooters on the team, Ross knocked down over 33 percent of her three point tries and has a knack for coming up with the "Big Shot", offensively and the "Big Stop", defensively, as she recorded a team-high 20 blocks as a freshman. Pepperdine continues its depth at the guard position with junior Nakeya Isabell from Seattle, Wash., the pesky defender who brings an explosive ability to break down an opponent off the dribble. Look for Isabell to get more opportunities at the point this season a perfect change of pace from Johnson. Also adding to the guard position is sophomore Sherriel Boyd, who ranked second in most three- point baskets made and is described as, "having one of the most beautiful pull-up jump shots in the game." After one season of experience and the teams' fourth leading scorer off the bench, the expectations are very high for Boyd. Taylor Smith is a versatile athlete who can create mismatches. Last season Smith made contributions both in the post and on the perimeter, but this year, look to see more of Smith behind the three- point line where she is a natural. The last two members of the Pepperdine crew are newcomers Bre Catron (Riverside, Calif.) a prolific scoring combination player and versatile guard LaCale Pringle-Buchanan (Seattle, Wash.), one of the top players in the state of Washington. These tow round out the last essential pieces in building a complete roster.
Never one to shy away from a tough non-conference schedule, Rousseau has her team slated to face another challenging pre-season schedule in hopes of preparing them for regular season play."Iron sharpens iron," says Rousseau who knows that championships are not won in November and December.
The season is scheduled to open on November 10th at preseason top 10 Texas A&M. Before returning home, Pepperdine will make a stop in Las Vegas to face the Rebels. Two home tournaments, starting with the inaugural Timeout for HIV/AIDS Classic the weekend of Nov. 17, get the home schedule started, with marquee teams such as Cal, Florida and Rutgers.
Pepperdine follows up on November 24, by hosting Iowa State, Tennessee Tech and Virginia Tech both tournaments scheduled to be played at Firestone Fieldhouse, after a little "Home Cooking", the next test comes when the Waves hit the road for three games, including Northridge, Texas - Arlington and TCU. The Waves hope to find the comforts of home as they return for the next seven out of eight games in the Fieldhouse, with the last two games starting WCC regular season play against Portland on Jan. 5 and Gonzaga Jan. 7.
The conference tournament will be held in Portland, Ore. this season starting on March 1 where the Waves will be competing to make their second consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament.