#rushthetrip Day Four: Waves Rising in Paradise?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on February 10th, 2014

RTC columnist Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is looking for the spirit of college basketball as he works his way on a two-week tour of various venues around the West. For more about his trip, including his itinerary and previous stops on his journey, check out the complete series here.

After three days spent traversing the deserts of the Southwestern US, I arrived in sunny Southern California for a Saturday double-header of hoops. By my count, the greater Los Angeles lays claim to nine D-1 hoops programs, including one of the greatest of all-time in UCLA, but the city is hardly considered a college basketball hotbed. My appetizer for the day, Saint Mary’s vs. Pepperdine, didn’t figure to offer much in the way of evidence for a larger conception of LA-area college hoops, but the UCLA vs. USC nightcap seemed like the perfect ticket for gaining a sense of college basketball’s present and future in the City of Angels.

The Fieldhouse's Parking Lot's Courts (Replete With A Pacific Ocean Backdrop) May Have Been More Inviting Than Firestone Itself

The Fieldhouse’s Parking Lot’s Courts (Replete With A Pacific Ocean Backdrop) May Have Been More Inviting Than Firestone Itself

Saturday afternoon clouds didn’t serve up Malibu in all of its glory, but Pepperdine’s cliff-side campus still possessed the power to stun the senses. Cozy Firestone Fieldhouse won’t soon be featured on any list of college hoops’ must-see venues, but I dare you to find a prettier backdrop for an arena exterior. I do not believe it exists. Moving inside, the sweeping views give way to a glorified high-school gym upon entrance to the fieldhouse, and if not for Jarron Collins’ imposing presence to my immediate left (doing color commentary for the WCC Game of the Week), I could have been tricked into believing I stumbled into a high-level high school game. Recent nights spent at The Pit and McKale Center didn’t help in de-emphasizing Firestone’s diminutive layout.

On the floor, a slow start offensively eventually sped up, and Saint Mary’s found a way to escape with a hard-earned overtime victory. Gaels mainstay Stephen Holt led the way with a game-high 29 points, helping keep at-large hopes alive for Randy Bennett’s squad. Despite the loss, the home team offered a glimpse into how they have been able to scratch out seven WCC wins already this year. Sophomore Stacy Davis and freshman Jeremy Major form a good young nucleus for coach Marty Wilson to build around, and with upper echelon WCC programs Saint Mary’s and BYU showing some slight signs of decline, there may be opportunities for upward mobility in this league. The Waves haven’t been dancing since 2002, but for the first time in a long time, there’s actually a little reason for hope in Malibu.

Just don’t expect many fans to notice. A little over 1,000 took in Saturday’s action, but it didn’t even feel that busy. A handful of Saint Mary’s partisans provided the loudest support on this day, relishing in Holt and southern California native Kerry Carter’s big days. On some level, Firestone’s tranquility made perfect sense. Who would really want to eschew the dazzling beaches for anything inside on a perfect Saturday afternoon? Even the most irrational of college basketball fans could find some sense in that alternative choice, but give credit to those double-dipping: One student entered the gym midway through the first half, still in his wetsuit, offering quite the literal explanation for the absence of the rest of the student population. More sound logic could be found in the fieldhouse’s parking lot, where dozens of basketball courts were painted on the blacktop. While we really did have a fun afternoon inside Firestone, I might suggest a summer afternoon of pickup basketball in the parking lot before I would “winter” visit to watch Marty Wilson’s team. You can put me on the record with that one, but I do reserve the right to change my mind if the Waves – the ones inside Firestone Fieldhouse — can ever find a way to captivate Malibu as much as their namesakes outside do.

More to come on the proceedings at the Galen Center, but Monday’s next stop? Sacramento, where Southern Utah visits the Hornets of Sacramento State.

BHayes (244 Posts)

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